- Channel 4
- Apple has hired former BBC and Channel 4 executive Jay Hunt as the European creative director for its international TV division. Hunt is a titan of British TV, who has launched shows including “Black Mirror” and “Sherlock.” She’s ferociously smart and utterly charming, but her strength of character can make her divisive. Ultimately, she has the skills to put Apple one step ahead of Netflix and Amazon, and help the tech company conquer TV.
If Apple was looking to make a statement of intent about its video ambitions, then it could do worse than hiring the woman who prised “The Great British Bake Off” away from the BBC.
Jay Hunt will join Apple in January as the European creative director for its international TV division. She arrives from Channel 4, where she has just stepped down as chief creative officer, dropping out of the race to become the British broadcaster’s CEO.
One of her final acts at Channel 4 was nabbing “The Great British Bake Off” from the BBC, a £75 million ($99 million) gamble that dominated the UK news agenda for days and has since been rewarded with huge ratings. But there’s much more to her legacy than cake.
- Channel 4/Love Productions
Hunt originally launched Charlie Brooker’s dystopian drama “Black Mirror,” which was brimming with so many brilliant ideas it was poached by Netflix. She reinvented Paralympic sport in the UK, making stars out of athletes like Jonnie Peacock.
You can thank her for “Catastrophe,” the superb Rob Delaney comedy that is also featured on Amazon Prime. And during her time at the BBC, she was responsible for “Sherlock” and “Luther,” which pushed Benedict Cumberbatch and Idris Elba into the embrace of Hollywood.
Put simply, Jay Hunt is a titan of British TV, who has a nose for ideas that have global appeal. She will have no shortage of ambition when it comes to spending some of the reported $1 billion (£760 million) war chest Apple has put aside for video content.
Exceptionally well-networked, her presence will put Apple one step ahead of Netflix and Amazon in the battle for ideas and talent in Britain, which is the second biggest exporter of TV shows in the world. Netflix and Amazon both have executives in the UK, but they have nowhere near the clout of Hunt, who puts Apple in a different league.
I have met and interviewed Hunt on many occasions, and she is a formidable presence, capable of being completely charming and disarmingly sharp. Ferociously smart, she thinks as quickly as she talks, which is machine-gun-rapid as I can attest to having toiled over her transcriptions.
Born in Australia, she has always considered herself an industry “outsider” and is rarely stronger than when backed into a corner. This was evidenced last year when a senior BBC executive ambushed her on stage at an industry event in the heat of the wrangle over “Bake Off.”
James Purnell caught Hunt off-guard by turning a good-natured, five-person panel discussion into a heated two-way row, arguing that taking “Bake Off” raised questions about how Channel 4 is regulated. Many in the room felt Hunt came out on top in the bunfight.
- Netflix, BBC, Channel 4
Hunt’s strength of character does make her a divisive figure. She has had some high-profile scraps in her career, some of which stem from her courage to make controversial decisions, and desire to keep a tight grip on creative reins.
In 2010, TV presenter Miriam O’Reilly took the BBC to an employment tribunal on the grounds of ageism and victimisation after Hunt sacked her from popular show “Countryfile.” O’Reilly emerged victorious in 2011.
Hunt was in court again for similar reasons in 2013 when she sacked Channel 4 horse racing presenter John McCririck. This time Hunt was on the winning side, but was described as “disingenuous in the extreme” by the judge after saying in evidence that she had “personally apologised” to O’Reilly over the BBC row, when she had not. If nothing else, it shows Hunt is capable of holding a grudge.
Hunt’s accomplishments speak for themselves, however, and she helped spearhead Channel 4 to record revenues of nearly £1 billion last year. Her mantra at the broadcaster was “born risky” and she’ll look to inject some of that into Apple, which has played it pretty safe to date with “Carpool Karaoke” and “Planet of the Apps.”
Ultimately, she has the right ingredients to deliver Apple a hit on the scale of “The Great British Bake Off.” Now that would really help Apple conquer TV.