Emulate US Networks, UK Media Regulator Tells ITV

21 September 2006

LONDON: Philip Graf, deputy chairman of UK media regulator Ofcom, has served notice on shareholders in ITV - the nation's largest commercial broadcaster - to start viewing the network's public service obligations as "an opportunity to be built on" rather than "a cost to be hollowed out".

Graf, a former ceo of Britain's largest newspaper group Trinity Mirror, is something of a poacher-turned-gamekeeper in the world of media. He certainly did not mince his words to the moneymen who effectively control ITV's programming.

Noting that the search for a new ceo is under way after the ousting of former incumbent Charles Allen [WARC News: 16-Aug-06], Graf advised the company's major investors to get their act together.

"Last time I looked, ITV plc was generating £460 million ($866.1m; €682.9m) in operating profit and giving £300m back to shareholders. Its licence payments to the [government] treasury have gone down from over £200m in 2004 to £75m last year and £4m by [digital] switchover; because the factual and actual value of ITV1's analogue licence is a shrinking asset, day by day."

Graf continued: "But, given creative verve and nerve under a new chief executive and finding again a distinctive voice that makes audiences want to listen, ITV could become like the better end of the US commercial networks - a significant market-led contributor to quality. Their salvation is largely in their own hands rather than the regulator's gift."

Graf's public voicing of his opinions does not bode well for ITV as it seeks to jettison more of its public service obligations. It is currently asking Ofcom to free flagship channel ITV1 from its statutory commitment to children's programming on weekday afternoons.

Data sourced from MediaGuardian.co.uk; additional content by WARC staff