Sunil Patel forgoes income as Sony indie faces £30m shortfall
Whisper chief executive Sunil Patel has given up his entire year’s salary to help staff as the indie reacts to having almost £30m of revenues placed on hold.
The directors of the Sony-backed business, which also include Jake Humphrey and David Coulthard, were each paid £172,500 in 2018 according to company accounts. The money will be used to top up the wages of Whisper’s lowest-paid staff, many of whom have been put on three-day working weeks, while around half of the 80-strong workforce has been furloughed.
Patel said the live sports specialist had almost £30m worth of revenues placed on hold virtually overnight when sports’ seasons across the world came to a sudden standstill due to coronavirus. Contracts for F1, the Paralympics, women’s football and the BBC’s international cricket highlights were among those affected.
“Every decision we made last month was based on being able to reassure and communicate with our staff,” said Patel. “There was a lot of hearsay and people were fearing the worst so we had to be fast and propose drastic measures before sending staff home.”
Sony-backed Whisper has set aside an additional emergency four-figure fund of a few thousand pounds for staff members who are in dire need of support and “struggling to make ends meet”. This is being funded directly by Humphrey from his earnings as a sports presenter rather than his Whisper earnings.
A number of staff members who had recently left and some freelancers have been re-hired then immediately furloughed in order that they can also access financial support from the government’s scheme.
“By doing all this we will be able to secure our future through 2021 and make sure we are relevant in 18 months time,” added Patel, who said the stress and anxiety caused by Covid-19’s impact on his business brought back memories of being made redundant by ITV in the late-90s.
“Suddenly I was on the other side of the fence – standing in front of 80-odd people,” he said. “I learnt a lot about being proactive and sharing information as quickly as you can.”
Patel hailed the role played by former investor Channel 4 and current owner Sony in helping to ensure the business had a healthy balance sheet prior to the Covid-19 lockdown.
Making the best of a bad situation
The live sports hiatus has encouraged Whisper to focus on developing its fledgling docs, factual and entertainment formats output.
Patel said a number of sports specialists have segued to this area, which is headed up by former ITV and C4 daytime chief Helen Warner.
Rather than pitching fast-turnaround lockdown ideas, the division is taking a more medium-term view and working to develop projects that can TX once the most stringent restrictions have been lifted.
“There was initially a flurry of lockdown ideas but we want this slate to out-run the virus,” added Patel. “Helen and her team are now tapping into many more minds.”
This article first appeared on Broadcast. Words by Max Goldbart.