City of London haruspices were this weekend trying to choreograph the news rather than predict it.
Speculation was rife within London's square mile that deposed BBC director general Greg Dyke is set to take the chair of ITV plc, Britain's largest commercial TV company, which today (Monday) launches as a single melded entity on the London Stock Exchange.
Dyke, who hit the headlines last week as a casualty of the Blair administration's war with the BBC [WAMN: 30-Jan-03], has the commercial acumen and programming pedigree to fill the ITV chair, still unoccupied after a coup last year when ITV investors unseated chairman-designate Michael Green, boss of Carlton Communications.
"You've got your future chairman [in Greg Dyke]," Anthony de Larrinaga, SG Securities media analyst told The Guardian newspaper. "He knows the business, he's reasonably robust, he has all the qualifications."
Other entrail-rakers agreed. "If the shareholders want Dyke, they should get Dyke," an unnamed media analyst said Sunday. "You want a TV man in there -- what Dyke is and [chief executive Charles] Allen is not. The time to strike is now. You call up Fidelity Investments and say 'Mr Bolton, please', and you take it from there."
However, a call to Fidelity by an eager journo elicited the fact that Anthony Bolton [Green's nemesis] is on holiday -- although doubtless still able to pull whatever strings his instincts dictate. Meantime, other institutional investors expressed caution.
One conceded that Dyke was a "possible" candidate for the ITV chair but doubted there would be time to parachute him into the job. "People have been shortlisted, it's a bit difficult for him to come in at the last minute," he opined. "It's possible, but it's my guess it's come a bit late in the process."
Another was even less enthused: "I think that given the circumstances around his departure it's a bit premature to think that he is the perfect candidate," said Robert Talbut, chief investment officer at Isis investment trust, representing some Granada and Carlton shareholders.
"It's not helpful to think about parachuting Greg Dyke into that position. As long as [ITV ceo Charles Allen] delivers, he has shareholder support."
A key factor that could sway the issue -- one way or the other -- is the less-than-cordial relationship extant between Dyke and Allen. Those in the know say this dates back to the early 1990s when the latter led a successful hostile takeover for London Weekend Television, bitterly opposed by the LWT board -- of which Dyke was then an executive member.
But not all ITV shareholders are rooting for Allen and the recruitment of Dyke might be seen as a catalyst for his swift departure.
• Meantime, despite the backstage jockeying by the moneymen, ITV continues to plan for the future. It plans to launch a third mainstream channel, targeting those with an "appetite for drama" before the end of the year, Allen revealed Saturday to the London Evening Standard.
ITV3 will build on the success of ITV2 and target an older, more affluent audience, said the ceo. "The third channel will give us the chance to do things like whole nights or weekends of, say, Prime Suspect, or to get viewers switching from one episode of a drama on ITV1 straight to the next episode on ITV3."
Data sourced from: MediaGuardian.co.uk and BrandRepublic (UK); additional content by WARC staff