UK Unions Get Twitchy Over Elstein’s ITV Ambitions

09 September 2003

Eyebrows around London’s media parish pump are raised in surprise that anyone should take seriously the claims of former Five ceo David Elstein to be able to shave a further £30 million from ITV’s costs by outsourcing £100 million ($158.78m; €214.71m) of inhouse programme-making.

Elstein is currently touting his alternative ITV management thesis around London venture capitalists. The latter, who know much about reading the runes of balance sheets, are surprisingly gullible when it comes to more worldly matters.

Such as, for example, evolving a programming strategy that might glue TV viewers’ index fingers to button three on their remote controls eighteen months into the future. This, the moneymen apear to believe is Elstein’s forte, given his time at Five and earlier stints as head of programming at BSkyB and director of programmes at Thames TV.

It would seem that Elstein, who numbers among his claims to fame that of being the youngest double-first ever at Cambridge University, has convinced the money men that such cost savings can won without shedding a concomitant number of viewers.

Few others in the industry take his proposition seriously except broadcasting trades unions BECTU, Amicus and the National Union of Journalists who – worried about the potential impact of the Elstein scenario on their members’ jobs – will meet today (Tuesday) in Birmingham to coordinate their opposition.

Says Sharon Elliott, the BECTU official responsible for the independent TV sector: “I am not aware of David Elstein putting meat on the bones of his plans but, from what we hear, it will involve making ITV leaner than it already is and that is not in the best interests of ITV as a vibrant force in British broadcasting.”

Continues Elliott: “The notion of ITV as a publisher-broadcaster is ridiculous in terms of commercial TV holding its own and being a real competitor in the UK.

“We are concerned ITV should continue to be an active force in the production of good quality programming with a regional dimension continuing to be central to that offering. What we have heard from David Elstein is that he plans a further move away from that proposition.”

But the three questions that most puzzle media observers about this paragon of programming have yet to be answered.

(1): Why did the Elstein magic fail to work at Five up to the point of his sudden and unexplained departure in October 2000? (2): What prompted this exit with no handover period to successor Dawn Airey and seemingly no other job in prospect? (3): Why was Airey’s first move to reverse Elstein’s so-called 3S (sex, sport and sleaze) programming policy?

Data sourced from:; additional content by WARC staff