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Last Updated: Tuesday, 10 February, 2004, 13:52 GMT
Brighter outlook for ITV
Nick Higham
By Nick Higham
BBC News

The BBC may have been having a torrid time lately, but over at ITV things have suddenly perked up.

After a difficult couple of years of tumbling audience share, huge financial losses at ITV Digital and corporate infighting, culminating in the removal of Michael Green, the Carlton founder and chairman-designate of ITV plc, the network seems to have stumbled on happier times.

On screen there's I'm a Celebrity..., a runaway ratings success like Who Wants to be a Millionaire and Pop Idol before it.

Greg Dyke
Might Greg Dyke end up at ITV?
There's a new look for ITV News and, at last, a fixed time of 10.30pm for the bulletin formerly known as News at When.

The ratings slide has been stabilised.

And the Premiership highlights contract, which ate up 10% of the programme budget and delivered 1% of the audience, comes to an end this summer.

Behind the scenes the advertising outlook is starting to look up and the merger of Carlton and Granada was consummated on 2 February.

ITV plc is now in being, and busily making savings of 100m by weeding out duplication among managers and shutting down expensive regional operations like Manchester's Quay Street Granada HQ.

Meanwhile the new regulator, Ofcom, is promising to review ITV's public service obligations and how much it pays for its licences (an estimated 475m) later this year.

This will be music to the ears of ITV's chief executive, Charles Allen, who told The Guardian his definition of public service broadcasting "is that the public has to want to watch it".

Kerry McFadden
Kerry McFadden is one of the stars of I'm a Celebrity...
But ITV could still face turbulence. Ditching public service programming may prove controversial; running down regional operations has already proved so.

A leaner, more commercial ITV won't be achieved without a struggle with public opinion and the regulator.

The new company still has no chairman.

And Allen has yet to secure firm backing from shareholders.

Which raises the intriguing possibility that Greg Dyke might end up at ITV. As a former chief executive of both LWT and Pearson, as well as the BBC, he certainly has the necessary track record.

But there are several arguments against.

Fierce battle

The vacant post is that of part-time chairman, and Greg is hardly a part-time anything.

And he might find it difficult to work with Allen, who was chief executive at Granada when LWT, under Dyke, lost a fierce battle to resist takeover.

Of course the shareholders might mount a putsch to remove Allen and install Dyke as chief executive.

But would he want the job?

The cards are stacked against ITV in the long run: whoever is boss, its audience share is bound to fall with increasing competition. And gracefully managing decline has never been Greg Dyke's style.

A version of this column appears in the BBC magazine Ariel.

You can e-mail Nick Higham on nick.higham@bbc.co.uk.


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