Dump ITVd, UK Media Shops Tell Carlton and Granada

05 April 2002

“Being good in business is the most fascinating kind of art,” once opined Andy Warhohl.

Britain's top five media planning and buying agencies appear to be of similar dilettante mind, if a report in UK industry magazine Media Week is to be believed. According to the publication: “The UK’s largest media agencies, accounting for a large proportion of ITV adspend, this week called on Granada and Carlton to wash their hands of ITV Digital and concentrate on their core TV business.”

The media shops would prefer to see ITVd’s joint shareholders, Carlton Communications and Granada Media, abandon the terrestrial digital broadcasting field to the so-called Freeco coalition – a phantom entity purportedly comprising the BBC, the ITV network and Channels 4 and 5. This, they believe, would free funding and Carlton/Granada management to focus solely on the none-too-healthy ITV network which, as dominant stockholders, Carlton and Granada effectively control.

Prompted for an opinion by Media Week, Mark Priestly, broadcast director at Carat was happy to oblige: “For the past two or three years ITV Digital has been a shambles, run by people who had no prior experience of running a pay-TV company,” he said.

“At present Granada and Carlton are behaving disgracefully and this issue needs to be resolved. Public sentiment is very much against ITV at present, as they’ve shown themselves to be without honour. Carlton and Granada should be concentrating on what they do best – good programming. At present, ITV1’s schedule is weak.”

Tom George, managing partner of Zenith Media, was equally forthcoming with advice: “ITV should be conveying the message that it’s business as usual at the network; they need to keep the brand as separate as possible from ITV Digital …. with the benefit of hindsight one could argue that ITV should never have got involved with platform provision.”

Media Week elicited similar opinions from senior but less talkative managers at Initiative Media, MindShare and MediaCom. The majority of those contacted believe Carlton and Granada made a dire blunder when they bulldozed through the platform’s name change from ONdigital to ITV Digital – against the wishes of other ITV franchisees – as viewers will now associate its failure with the ITV network as a whole.

Meantime, on ITVd’s second front, the platform’s largest creditor, the Football League, intensified the pressure, demanding the appointment of a parallel administrator alongside Deloitte & Touche.

The League has written to D&T, which also acts as auditor and consultant to a number of soccer clubs, arguing that the appointment of a second administrator is essential to avoid finger-pointing over a conflict of interest.

But as the debacle gathers momentum, Carlton and Granada refuse to talk direct with FL management. Says an ITVd mole: “It's not for us to negotiate with the League; everything has to go through the administrator.” A counterpart mole at the League disagreed: “There's nothing to stop them talking to us,” it opined.

Data sourced from: Media Week (UK) and Financial Times; additional content by WARC staff