Ashley Highfield is CEO of one of the largest local media groups in the UK Johnston Press. He has worked in high levels in companies including Microsoft and the BBC. In May 2015 he was appointed vice chairman of the News Media Association.
Educated at Elizabeth College, Guernsey, Highfield worked as first as a computer programmer before turning management consultant. He worked in the TMT sector for Coopers & Lybrand (now PwC) for six years, working in post-apartheid South Africa. In 1994 he returned to the UK to become head of IT and New Media for NBC Europe. He then joined Flextech — a pay-TV channel provider — where he worked for five years as managing director of interactive services. While at Flextech he founded Flextech Interactive and invested in online ticketing agency WayAhead and mapping company Multimap.
In October 2000 he joined the BBC as Director of New Media & Technology working for Greg Dyke who said in his autobiography Inside Story "Ashley is one of the most inventive people I know and our one-to-one monthly meetings were amongst the most creative and stimulating I had in my time as Director-General". Dyke also said "Ashley didn't have an easy task bringing all the BBC's online activity under one division, but he did it with great success". In 2005, under new Director General Mark Thompson, Highfield retained his place on the new slimmed down Executive Board and was given additional responsibility for Broadcast and Production technology across the BBC. In July 2006 the BBC reformed its structure, turning the New Media department into the Future Media & Technology department (including BBC's Information & Archives business) with Highfield at its head. During his tenure, Highfield oversaw a growth in the BBC's online presence from 3.5 million to 17 million users, and the growth of its interactive TV and mobile, as well as projects such as BBC Backstage and the BBC Creative Archive — although the latter has been in abeyance since September 2006 pending a public value test. Highfield has also overseen the development of the BBC iPlayer, which has been both praised and criticised (especially over its use of digital rights management).
At the time of his appointment to the BBC he was the youngest ever member of the organisation's Executive Board. His department was responsible for the BBC's internet presence - bbc.co.uk, interactive TV - BBC Red Button, mobile services, the BBC's technology portfolio and the BBC’s Archive. He was responsible for around 1,400 staff across the BBC, and an annual budget of £400m. At the BBC, Highfield claimed £47,000 in expenses between 2004 and 2009, while on a salary of £466,000; this included a subscription to Sky and two iPods.
It was announced on 14 April 2008 that Highfield had been appointed the CEO of Project Kangaroo. Kangaroo was a joint venture between BBC, ITV & Channel 4 offering an internet-based one stop shop for all TV programmes on-demand, which was halted by the Competition Commission. He left the project in November 2008, to work for Microsoft. He was UK Managing Director of Microsoft (Consumer & Online), responsible for Windows Mobile, MSN, Hotmail, Windows Live/Instant Messenger and Bing.
In his first year the company reduced its workforce by almost a quarter as Highfield dealt with a legacy of massive debt but recently[when?] announced refinancing measures to put the company on a secure financial footing.
He lives in central London and is divorced.
He holds two non-executive roles – on the boards of William Hill and the British Film Institute.
In 2003 Highfield was awarded the Digital Innovator internet award by The Sunday Times who dubbed his vision of a 100% digital Britain a "tour de force". In 2004 he was named ‘most influential individual in technology’ by online technology news site Silicon.Com for overseeing a number of ‘firsts’ for a major broadcaster, including the use of peer-to-peer, interactive TV, and multi-casting of TV. In 2007, The Guardian placed Highfield at #31 in its annual survey of the most powerful people in the UK media industry.
- "Ashley Highfield". MediaGuardian.co.uk (London). 2007-07-09. Retrieved 2007-10-11.
- Ian Burrell (2006-08-14). "Ashley Highfield: '99 per cent of the BBC archives is on the shelves. We ought to liberate it'". The Independent (London). Archived from the original on 15 October 2007. Retrieved 2007-10-11.
- "Ashley Highfield biography". bbc.co.uk. Retrieved 2007-10-11.[dead link]
- Greg Dyke Inside Story pp178-9
- Johnson, Bobbie (2007-05-14). "Situation critical". MediaGuardian (London). Archived from the original on 23 November 2007. Retrieved 2007-10-11.
- Dowell, Ben (2009-06-26). "BBC expenses: Ashley Highfield claims £1,400 for Sky subscription". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 2010-04-25.
- "Ashley Highfield appointed as CEO of Kangaroo". BBC Worldwide Press Releases. 2008-04-14. Retrieved 2008-04-14.
- Mason, Rowena (2008-11-25). "Microsoft poaches Ashley Highfield from BBC, Channel 4 and ITV joint internet venture". London: Telegraph.co.uk. Retrieved 2009-01-08.
- "Microsoft's Ashley Highfield appointed CEO of Johnston Press" Guardian 28 July 2011
- "Johnston Press chief executive Ashley Highfield gets £700,000 payout". BBC News. 2013-03-28.