FORUM: What will Richard Eyre do for the Network Centre?

Richard Eyre has accepted the top job at the ITV Network Centre. Is he the right man for the job if, indeed, there is such a thing for a position that is widely regarded as near impossible? What qualities will he bring to the role? And how should his performance be measured? Alasdair Reid investigates.

Richard Eyre has accepted the top job at the ITV Network Centre. Is

he the right man for the job if, indeed, there is such a thing for a

position that is widely regarded as near impossible? What qualities will

he bring to the role? And how should his performance be measured?

Alasdair Reid investigates.



Richard Eyre must be mad. This time last week he had one of the most

satisfying jobs in media and was guaranteed the admiration and respect

of the whole industry. His years as the chief executive of Capital Radio

have been unremittingly successful - and Capital’s revenue performance

has been one of the biggest driving forces behind the growth of the

radio medium as a whole. He was on the verge of taking that success a

stage further by masterminding the pounds 87 million takeover of Virgin

Radio.



Last week, he was offered a notoriously poisoned chalice and he accepted

it cheerfully. There are some jobs you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy

- the captaincy of the England cricket team, the manager’s dug-out at

Spurs, leadership of the Conservative Party. The chief executive role at

the ITV Network Centre is like all those rolled into one, minus the

Luncheon Vouchers.



The top job at the Network Centre is a potential nightmare because it

has traditionally been all responsibility and no power. The remit is to

encourage ITV’s three main power blocs to work together, to head a

central programme commissioning and scheduling secretariat and to

provide a focus for brand development and marketing activities. The

problem is that ITV’s three main powers - Carlton, Granada and United

News and Media - are deadly rivals. Backstabbing has become a

sophisticated artform at the Network Centre. Is Richard Eyre mad? ’The

potential difficulties of the job are being vastly exaggerated,’ he

argues. ’Single shareholders on the board of any company don’t always

agree on tactics but they usually agree on goals. ITV is actually in a

better position than that because there is broad agreement on the

immediate route forward.’



But have they faced up to the reality of making that happen? There has

been speculation recently that the Network Centre may be reconstituted

as ’ITV Limited’ - a shell consortium company that would have autonomous

powers to commission programmes and act as the ITV brand figurehead.

Will it now happen? Surprisingly, Eyre says there has been no decision

on that: ’My first task will be to go and listen to the talented people

that run ITV and hear what they have to say. We start that process with

a blank sheet of paper. In terms of structure, what I can say is that

there will be a network director under me, a single hand on the

programming tiller. The intention is certainly to move away from the

previous committee-based structures to something with an executive

structure but the legal framework will come a little way down the

road.’



Eyre isn’t yet ready to talk about specific performance targets or even

broad goals. He states: ’It would be odd if share of viewing had no part

to play in my new job description but it would be inappropriate for me

to announce gutsy targets. Advertisers know my track record and what to

expect from me. In previous guises, I spent 16 years buying airtime from

ITV - that means I start with an idea of what advertisers and agencies

are looking for.’



Does the industry really know what to expect of Eyre? What should his

immediate priorities be when he takes up the reins? And by what criteria

should he be judged?



He is obviously highly regarded in the advertising industry. In fact,

Jim Marshall, the chief executive of the Media Centre, believes that he

is ’arguably nicer than God himself’. But he adds: ’The thing is, he’ll

need Godlike qualities to address the problems within ITV. The network

lacks investment - not so much cash but intellectual commitment to

getting the programming side right.



’There has to be a true programming renaissance. Whether it is within

the capabilities of Richard Eyre or the Network Centre as it is

constituted, only time will tell. But I don’t think they could have

bettered the appointment.’



Marshall argues that, to some extent, Eyre’s performance will be judged

on how well he projects himself and ITV. But, ultimately, there will be

a simpler measure of his success. ’It will come down to numbers. After

12 months, there will need to be signs that audience performance is

improving,’ he believes.



That’s pretty much how Barry Spencer, the media communications manager

of Kraft Jacobs Suchard, sees it too. ’He knows the media business

inside out and he’s a very likable personality. It’s a job from hell,

but if anyone can manage the sizeable egos at the top of the big ITV

companies, it’s Eyre. He must reassure clients that ITV intends to be

there for good and that it will deliver what advertisers want.’



But Spencer doesn’t believe Eyre will oversee any radical structural

changes within the network: ’He’s not so much a troubleshooter, more

someone who can pour oil on troubled waters. And it does come down to

programming.



I still don’t believe that ITV is investing enough and I think it has

too narrow a focus on drama. They have to build an overall schedule,

including strong daytime offerings, children’s programming, everything.

They have to do it, not pay lipservice to it. He should not only be

looking to arrest decline but to make ITV a bigger force. It can be

done.’



Graham Duff, chief executive of Zenith Media, agrees that the

appointment sends out all the right signals: ’Someone of his stature

taking the job indicates that this may not be the poisoned chalice

everyone believes it to be. But we need to see the detail - the job has

to involve a lot more than merely trying to stop ITV’s three main

shareholders fighting each other.



’If Eyre is given an unambiguous remit, agencies will also have more

clarity about what ITV’s goals really are and the network will be more

accountable for its performance. Within ITV there is a growing

understanding that advertising revenue really does follow commercial

audience. If he has the handcuffs removed, and is given reasonable

autonomy and authority, it would be reasonable for him to accept a

greater degree of responsibility for audience delivery.



Ultimately, the reconstruction of ITV must be about audience protection

and enhancement.’



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