Johnston Press taps iPlayer man as CEO

JOHNSTON Press, the highly indebted newspaper publisher, yesterday shocked the market by appointing the man behind the BBC iPlayer as its new chief executive.

Ashley Highfield, who left the BBC to join Microsoft in 2009, will replace John Fry, who is stepping down as chief executive and leaving Johnston Press on 31 October 2011, the firm said.

Highfield will receive a golden hello consisting of £500,000 worth of shares when he joins the firm under its long-term incentive programme.

He came to prominence as director of new media and technology at the BBC, where he was the executive responsible for launching the corporation’s hugely successful iPlayer catch-up TV service in 2007.

He joined Microsoft in 2009 as a vice-president, with responsibility for its UK consumer and online business, including the MSN content portal.

The appointment of an executive who has worked almost exclusively in online media for over a decade suggests that Johnston Press is set to unveil a massive shift in strategy to focus on the web.

Ian Russell, chairman of Johnston Press, said: “His combined online and media sector pedigree will be a major strength in enabling us to grow our business again.”

Shares in the publisher of The Scotsman and Yorkshire Post tumbled almost three per cent to 5p on the news, valuing the firm at around £33m. Its debt pile is over ten times its market capitalisation at £389m.