Feature

Determined Henry drives ITV to digital diversity

If he can replicate his success at Hallmark, Jeff Henry should become ITV's next chief executive, Darren Davidson writes.

Jeff Henry might not be the most famous name in the TV industry, but it is a name you will be hearing a lot more of in the future.

He is the man who ITV's chief executive, Charles Allen, has charged with spearheading ITV's drive to turn itself from a traditional broadcaster into a 21st-century media company.

As the chief executive of ITV Consumer, Henry's remit includes developing revenue streams from sources such as online and broadband, shoring up its defences against declining ITV1 ad revenue. The aim is that 50 per cent of ITV revenues will stem from non-ITV1 activity by 2010.

Henry has been in the job for less than a year but he has already pushed through the controversial acquisition of Friends Reunited in a £170 million deal and last week launched ITV Play, a viewer-participation quiz channel that will generate its revenue from viewer calls rather than advertising.

Although ITV Play, a Freeview channel that will later move on to the Sky Digital platform, is barely two weeks old, Henry says its performance has so far exceeded expectations. "We want many people playing a few times rather than a few people playing many times," he says. "That's the only way for ITV to have a long-term sustainable business. We are already doing that by keeping the call numbers at the same level and doubling the number of people taking part. We're aiming to get something more akin to the lottery with many players."

It is a launch that has attracted more than its fair share of controversy - some national newspapers raised concerns that ITV Play was exploiting viewers and there were accusations of dumbing down. Henry responds: "The people who criticise ITV Play are not the same people who would take part - it's snobbery. One tabloid did a feature on how much you could spend in one day on ITV Play. I did an experiment to see how much you could pay in premium-rate calls from the beginning of the paper to the end and it was far more than you could ever spend on ITV Play."

There could also be an element of rivalry. After all, ITV Consumer is also planning an assault on the classified local market through ITV Local, a broadband local news and information service. "We're going to go after the newspaper classified revenues - that's £3 billion to £4 billion a year," Henry purrs.

Henry, an ebullient Scotsman, is also preparing to make ITV programmes available online. He is tight-lipped about details, but he does confirm the broadcaster is in the process of finalising plans to stream live Champions League games. It will charge fans to watch the games, but it is unlikely the same will apply to shows such as Coronation Street and The Bill.

But is there demand among Coronation Street viewers for an online catch-up service? Surely the older demographic the show attracts is not interested in going online to watch TV? Henry argues that if just 1 per cent of Coronation Street viewers accessed the service, it would still be 100,000 users.

Henry is evangelical in his belief that ITV's broadband services will not upset traditional viewers. He says: "I don't want to sound like a broken record but I just fall slightly out of the 18 to 34 group ... by about ten years. I think to myself 'hold on a second here' - I have purchasing power, I'm reasonably media-savvy and so are vast elements of the population. You don't suddenly become a carpet-slippered dinosaur just because you're 35 years old."

Henry began his professional life as an accountant in Scotland and progressed to broadcasting roles such as running a Granada-Sky joint venture. However, it was his record running Hallmark outside the US that caught Allen's eye. As the chief executive of Hallmark, Henry oversaw one of the most successful UK channel launches of the past decade, creating a profitable top-five multichannel offering inside four years.

This is an achievement he is still proud of. "I don't care what any-one says, Hallmark was the most successful launch in multichannel TV," he says. "I took Hallmark from nowhere into the top five."

In recent interviews, Allen has earmarked Henry as a possible successor and it is easy to see why. In person, Henry is friendly, jovial and passionate.

Underneath this warm exterior, though, it is clear that he is a very determined and dogged character.

Unsurprisingly, he will not be drawn on his future ambitions and avoids the question by wondering if Arsene Wenger will still be coaching his beloved Arsenal in ten years' time. Henry's grit and determination could probably be of use to Wenger's team as they battle away to qualify for next season's Champions League.

In any case, Henry has big ambitions in his current role. "If I had one wish, it would be that when people think of the ITV family, it's not just 1, 2, 3 and 4, but also Play, broadband, mobile, red-button, dotcom and interactive," he says. "Effectively, that's the true family of ITV, because we're no longer a television business. We're a media company and that movement from single-channel to multichannel to media company is exactly the transition we're on."

Henry faces a difficult balancing act in building a £500 million business while avoiding alienating ITV's core audiences. To pull this off, he will need to draw heavily on all his statesman-like qualities.

THE LOWDOWN Age: 44 Lives: Cobham Family: Wife, two children Hobbies: Golf, Arsenal, TV Favourite TV show: Everybody Loves Raymond Name a recent ad that worked on you: Sony Bravia Personal mantra: Manners maketh the man