ITV said this morning that its annual profits plunged to £188m last year, down from £288m in 2006, after another turbulent 12 months. Declining ad revenues, the row over Sky’s 18% stake, phone-in scandals and a lack of decent TV shows have all conspired to send its share price plunging to new lows, wiping billions off its value.
But according to current MT cover star Grade (who recently extended his contract to 2010) ITV has stopped the rot and is on the way back. On BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this morning – where not surprisingly he got a bit of a hard time – he was in defiant mood, arguing that ITV had out-performed its competitors in a tough market and scoffing at suggestions that shareholders would be better served by the company splitting in two.
He also pointed out that ITV channels managed to increase viewing share for the first time in more than a decade – although closer inspection reveals that it was only by 0.01%. ‘You are not going to get a 10% or 20% increase in viewing numbers,’ he harrumphed today. ‘Given that we had 10 or 15 years of declining share I will take that increase.’
The reaction to ITV’s latest round of programming has been a bit mixed, to say the least. Some dramas like Echo Beach have enjoyed modest success, but the re-launched News at Ten is so far being eaten alive by the BBC equivalent. Britain’s Got Talent proved to be a big hit – but since that was a copy of a proven American format, made by an independent production company, it’s not exactly a paradigm for the kind of inventive and original programming that the chairman’s supposedly targeting.
Grade has certainly been making his presence felt on the recruitment front, however – he’s shaken up the senior management team by appointing Dawn Airey and Rupert Howell to the board, and bringing in Peter Fincham (the man best known for picking a fight with the Queen) as director of TV.
And he’s also started to sell off the random collection of non-core assets that was cluttering up its balance sheet – for example today it raised £15m by selling its stake in Liverpoolfc.tv, Britain’s most popular football website.
One industry observer told MT that Grade’s job at ITV was ‘like catching a falling knife’. So in the circumstances the stabilisation of ad revenues, and the slight increase in viewing figures probably counts as a decent result. But with profits down by a third and the share price in the toilet, try telling that to ITV’s long-suffering shareholders...