Content is king. So says Michael Grade, the new chairman at ITV. After a lifetime in broadcasting, he's as well qualified as any to reaffirm this ancient media truism. New technologies and distribution platforms come and go but, in the end, it is the ability to tell a good story in a compelling way that is the only thing that really matters in commercial entertainment and news. This basic principle hasn't changed for hundreds of years, and there is no reason to think that digital technology will change it either.
In recognising it, and framing his strategy around it, Mr Grade is for the first time in years putting his new charge on a viable growth course for the future. It may sound like a statement of the blindingly obvious, but though ITV was doing many of the right things under its former boss, Charles Allen, this was the vital missing ingredient that somehow got lost in the grubby business of integrating Granada and Carlton into a single ITV. In reaffirming it, Mr Grade takes the first step in putting ITV back on the straight and narrow.
Hearing his "message" to accompany the annual results yesterday - his first formal chance to say what he thinks is wrong and right with ITV - I found myself repeatedly thinking "well done". By focusing on content creation and proper exploitation of ITV's back library, Mr Grade recognises an important fact - that this is actually the only substantial part of the company showing decent levels of revenue growth, with external sales last year up 18 per cent at [pound]282m.
Meanwhile, the process of attrition in the company's core franchise, ITV1, continues apace. In the first eight weeks of this year, the channel has continued to lose viewers and advertising revenues at an alarming rate. Growth in digital channels has been encouraging but has so far failed fully to compensate for these losses.
ITV is having to play catch-up in areas where it should be a market leader, such as its main internet portal. Mr Grade also identifies a tendency towards bureaucracy, and a lack of innovation in programming which has been compounded by fear of the revenue consequences of any ratings failure. Under "contract rights renewal" (CRR), advertisers pay according to the size of audiences, leading to a natural aversion to risk-taking in prime-time TV scheduling. …