Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Why It Will Be Tough to Make the Grade at ITV

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Why It Will Be Tough to Make the Grade at ITV

Article excerpt

Byline: NEIL COLLINS

MICHAEL Grade is charismatic, highly regarded in the media industry andarticulate, but he's either a rotten businessman or an unlucky one.

The chairman of ITV was a popular choice to rescue a demoralised company whenhe arrived just over a year ago, but the enthusiasts either didn't know, orchose to forget, the unhappy experience of First Leisure almost a decadeearlier.

He had stepped up to run the family entertainment business in 1997, and by thetime he left three years later the share price had collapsed and most of thegroup's operations had been sold or closed.

So far, Grade's impact on ITV shares has been uncannily similar. From theeuphoria of his arrival, it has been downhill all the way, and the price hasalmost exactly halved. Restoring ITV to financial health is a much bigger taskthan running First Leisure, and it may prove to be impossible. The televisionindustry is fragmenting. Not only are digital audiences getting diverted intonew channels, the very concept of television is evolving faster than executivesbrought up on programming and managing schedules can cope with.

Internet sites such as tvcatchup.com, which allowed viewers to pick programmesfrom a wide range of channels, either before or after they were broadcast, anddownload them on to a PC later, spooked the industry. Viewers didn't even needa TV set. That one has been "suspended" but it's impossible to uninvent thetechnology that made the site possible, and others will follow.

The best Grade has been able to claim with the latest results is that ITV seemsto be declining at a slower rate than some other traditional channels, and thatthe clutch of digital offerings it owns is making up the difference in viewersto ITV channels. Co-ordinated advertising breaks help stick some of thefragments back together. …

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