Opinion

Bosses are leaving ITV with recipe for success

Most of us would be happy to leave a job knowing that the company was in a better state than when we started.

Given ITV’s recent golden run, it’s no wonder that some of the broadcaster’s senior management are ready to quit. News emerged this week that both Peter Fincham, the programming boss since 2008, and Archie Norman, the chairman since 2010, are leaving.

Advertisers and ITV shareholders should be grateful because, in their different ways, Fincham and Norman exemplified much of what ITV got right in recent years.

Fincham was responsible for the programming revival as he invested in high-end drama such as Downton Abbey, Broadchurch and Mr Selfridge. He was also good at handling talent. Witness his amusing encounter on stage at the upfronts in November last year, where the Britain’s Got Talent judge Amanda Holden draped herself on his lap as he unveiled a line-up of strong new dramas. 

It’s true that ratings have fallen since 2013 and The X Factor looks tired, but he departs with a good internal successor, Kevin Lygo, in place.

Norman is different from Fincham. The low-profile ex-Tory politician knows how to charm City investors but also has a populist touch from his days running Asda. It was appropriate that, at the upfronts, Norman sat modestly in the circle of the London Palladium rather than among the celebrities in the stalls. He made chairing ITV look easy: find a smart chief executive with turnaround experience (Adam Crozier), cut debt, reduce dependence on ads and the UK by investing in global programme-making and try to ease regulation.

Norman was only partially successful. Regulation such as contract rights renewal remains and ad revenue, which he described as a "faulty shower", is still vital.

However, it is hard to complain when profits have surged thanks to the ad recovery.

Advertisers have realised that viewers still value TV despite Netflix and YouTube. As ITV’s deputy commercial chief, Simon Daglish, told the upfronts: "It’s increasingly clear that television, and ITV in particular, is the only place that can deliver mass, simultaneous, effective reach. No ad-blocking, no viewability issues, no fraud. Just quality, trusted entertainment."

Advertisers seem to rate the strategy. I know two media agency bosses who have recently bought ITV shares, which are up fivefold since 2010.

The long-term future for ITV, a takeover target for US predators, is uncertain. A recent Enders Analysis article asks: "Will the young of today ever turn to trad TV?" Judging by the experience of Fincham and Norman, ITV won’t go far wrong if it keeps investing in original, British, high-quality programming.

gideon.spanier@haymarket.com           
@gideonspanier

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