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Outgoing BBC chief to lead New York Times Co.

Mark Thompson

BBC/Mike Abrahams

Mark Thompson

Mark Thompson, the outgoing head of the British Broadcasting Corp., was named chief executive of The New York Times Co. Tuesday, a move that underscores the company’s effort to broaden its focus beyond traditional print media and develop new digital products.

Thompson, 55, takes over in November, replacing Janet L. Robinson, who abruptly left the company late last year.

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Thompson will be the first CEO hired from outside the Times Co., suggesting a renewed push for change at the publisher, which also owns The Boston Globe and the Worcester Telegram & Gazette.

As director-general of the BBC since 2004, Thompson has been responsible for managing 10 national TV channels, 10 national radio stations, 40 local radio stations, and a global news website.

Most recently, he led BBC’s multimedia coverage of the London Olympic Games, which drew historically high audiences in TV and radio.

“It is a real privilege to be asked to join the Times Company as it embarks on the next chapter in its history,” Thompson said in a statement. “I’m particularly excited to be coming to The New York Times Company as it extends its influence digitally and globally.”

Thompson will also become a member of the Times Co. board and will report to Arthur Sulzberger Jr., chairman of the company.

“Mark is a gifted executive with strong credentials whose leadership at the BBC helped it to ­extend its trusted brand identity into new digital products and services,” Sulzberger said. “Our board concluded that Mark’s experience and his accomplishments at the BBC made him the ideal candidate to lead the Times Company at this moment in time when we are highly focused on growing our business through digital and global expansion.”

The BBC is known for its worldwide radio and television programs. It also operates a global news website, but distributing print news publications has never been a focus of its business.

The BBC receives its funding from the British government through an annual television license fee charged to all British viewers, giving it a vastly different financial structure than the Times Co.’s.

Thompson has also spent most of his career in broadcast journalism and will be the first leader of the company to come from a nonprint background.

“It’s certainly a break from the past,” said Tom Fiedler, dean of the Boston University College of Communication. “The question it raises is whether the Times Company newsroom has to be journalistically agnostic about the platforms it uses. I think this is a significant move.”

Thompson takes over during a challenging time for the company, which reported a net loss of $88.1 million in the second quarter because of a $194.7 million write-down in the value of its ­online resource company, About.com., and continuing declines in print and digital advertising revenue.

The company has been shedding assets in recent years, including a group of regional newspapers it owned in California and the South. Earlier this year, it sold its remaining ownership units in Fenway Sports Group, which owns the Boston Red Sox and the New England Sports Network.

The Times Co. has also been in talks to sell About.com.

Thompson said in an interview that it was premature to discuss whether the Times Co. should sell any of its units or the Globe, its last major media company besides the flagship news operation.

“I haven’t begun to start looking at that question in enough depth or detail to give a definitive answer,” Thompson said.

In the second quarter, advertising revenue at the company’s News Media Group, which includes the Times, The International Herald Tribune, and The Boston Globe, fell 6.6 percent to $220 million.

Print advertising revenue fell 8 percent, while online advertising revenue declined 1.6 percent.

Still, increases in digital-only subscriptions have helped circulation revenue in recent months. At the Times and International Herald Tribune, the number of paid digital subscribers was up 12 percent, to 509,000, at the end of the second quarter, from 454,000 in March. Paid subscribers to the Globe’s e-reader and replica editions and BostonGlobe.com were up about 28 percent, to 23,000 subscribers.

Although the BBC relies on government funding, Thompson is no stranger to budget constraints. He has announced several rounds of job cuts in recent years as the government froze funding.

Thompson said he has been impressed with the Times Co.’s conversion to a digital pay model, but still finds value in the traditional print format.

“It may be that plenty of people want the pleasure and convenience of getting their news from the physical newspaper for years to come,” Thompson said. “I am in favor of a bold digital strategy. I don’t think digital is everything.”

At the BBC, Thompson ­developed new products to generate revenue across its media businesses. He introduced technologies such as BBC iPlayer, a live online television service and archive. In 2009, he announced a review of the BBC’s strategy, looking at how the organization could best continue to serve audiences in the face of advances in technology and a rapidly changing media landscape.

Thompson joined the BBC in 1979 as a production trainee, working his way up the TV news division.

He left in 2002 to become the chief executive of Channel 4, a publicly owned but commercially funded broadcaster in the United Kingdom. He was recruited back to the BBC in 2004 to be its director-general.

Thompson announced in March that he would be stepping down from the BBC this fall, after the longest tenure of any BBC director-general since the 1970s.

Casey Ross can be reached at cross@globe.com.
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