24 April 2007

LONDON: Michael Grade, the recently appointed executive chairman of limping television giant ITV, has about "two years to really get it right," opines WPP Group ceo Sir Martin Sorrell - whose personal record proves he knows a thing or two about that arcane art.

Grade took on the role of ITV Saviour in December knowing it to be a poisoned chalice. And those who are willing him to succeed - staff, investors and advertisers alike - also know it. They know too that Rome wasn't built in a day.

Reviewing his first one hundred days in the hotseat, Grade told advertisers and investors that there was no overnight fix for ITV's problems. However, he believes the company's stakeholders should seek to "see the wood for the trees".

"The full view of the forest" was beginning to emerge, he said, expressing his confidence that the broadcaster is gradually winning back viewers and advertisers. Inciting the same confidence in shareholders, though, would be an uphill struggle.

Despite which relations with investors have improved, according to an ITV insider. "Obviously they want more but there's a sense of stability," said the mole. "It gives you time."

And last week investment bank Goldman Sachs upgraded ITV's rating, saying its advertising revenues were outperforming expectations.

Media buyers are still leery as the to the final outcome of the ITV saga - but GroupM ceo Stephen Allen likely spoke for many of his peers when he observed that Grade had "brought a sense of stability to a company that had lost confidence".

Grade is currently assessing one of the major stumbling blocks in ITV's relationship with media buyers - the Contract Rights Renewal mechanism, introduced to protect advertisers and other broadcasters when ITV was created by its controversial merger in February 2004.

He is in process of constructing a case for reform of the unloved CRR, seen by ITV as a negotiating millstone around its neck. Those on the other side of the fence detect a less confrontational approach than that taken by Grade's predecessor, Charles Allen. "He knows we've got to be realistic," says an insider.

But many advertisers don't buy Grade's argument that CRR damages ITV's ability to take the creative risks needed to win back viewers. "He has a point but the connection is not direct and not linear," says Bob Wootton of advertisers' trade association ISBA.

Data sourced from Financial Times; additional content by WARC staff