A charismatic, high-profile figurehead he may be, but Grade faces a tough task revitalising ITV, writes Jeremy Lee.
So far, so good: the news that Michael Grade is joining ITV as executive chairman has at last generated some positive headlines for the broadcaster and, for the time being at least, appeared to put speculation over possible take-over bids and its long-term future in the shadows.
With his trademark braces and cigar-chomping habit, there is no doubt that Grade, a scion of a family packed with theatrical impresarios, has added some much-needed glamour to an organisation that has been tarred with the epithet 'beleaguered' for too long.
Putting aside his panache, though, the big question is whether there is enough substance to his appointment and whether he will be able to maintain the positive headlines and goodwill that greeted his arrival.
Why all the fuss?
The national newspapers went into overdrive at the news of his appointment, affording it the sort of coverage usually reserved for the acclamation of a new Pope by the papal conclave.
His arrival was also welcomed by advertisers. Roisin Donnelly, UK & Ireland head of marketing at Procter & Gamble, is just one to join the chorus of praise. 'We're delighted that Michael Grade has joined ITV. He understands the TV industry and more importantly he understands what the viewer wants,' she says.
This view is echoed by Nigel Cowlin, media director at Unilever UK & Ireland. 'Michael Grade should be good news for ITV and advertisers,' he says. 'He has a great TV pedigree, and my respect for him has grown since first seeing him operate back in the days of LWT. He has the right blend of leadership qualities, creative judgment and management experience to help ITV tackle its challenges'.
It is important for advertisers to once again have a strong ITV that can deliver mass audiences and the hope is that Grade can kick-start the process.
What should his priorities be?
Revitalising ITV1. The only way he can do this is by investing in quality programming. One of his first tasks upon arrival at ITV was to cancel a pounds 251m share buy-back scheme, which observers have interpreted as signs of plans to increase investment in the schedule; this is long-overdue, as it has slipped to below the 20% mark.
Another priority will be to expand ITV's digital presence. Although it has a 'family' of digital channels and its broadband strategy is advanced compared with Five, there is much still to do. Not least is finding a way to integrate Friends Reunited, purchased for an eye-watering pounds 175m, into the business.
Andy Jones, chief executive of Universal McCann, says the task is not unassailable. 'He would have to work miracles to grow ITV1's audience share, but there is plenty that he can do. ITV might still be in decline, but it need not be terminal. A strong start to 2007 is important, but evolving ITV's digital and cross-platform strategy is equally critical to the company's long-term future.'
Donnelly agrees. …