MEDIA: HEADLINER - Granada takes up arms as it prepares to do battle for ITV. Mick Desmond leads the new commercial charge. Jade Garrett investigates

There must be plenty of people from Mick Desmond’s past who said he’d never amount to much in the harsh world of commercial TV sales. Welsh, unconfrontational and all-round Mr Nice Guy, he’s been an easy target for the sceptics.

There must be plenty of people from Mick Desmond’s past who said

he’d never amount to much in the harsh world of commercial TV sales.

Welsh, unconfrontational and all-round Mr Nice Guy, he’s been an easy

target for the sceptics.



His career achievements to date have already gone quite some way to

silencing the faultfinders but the events of the last week might set

Granada Media’s chief executive on a path that could silence them

permanently.



Last week Granada Group announced an overhaul of its media business and

its planned flotation of a minority stake in the restructured

operation.



This will see the emergence of four divisions under the Granada banner:

Granada Creative, housing production businesses; Granada Broadcasting,

managing its four ITV licences; Granada Broadband, which will target new

opportunities in the digital and internet markets, and Granada

Enterprises, a rebranded and expanded commercial operation to be headed

by Desmond.



The outfit will act as a one-stop shop across all the broadcaster’s

platforms: analogue ITV, the internet, WAP and broadband.



The changes come as Granada prepares to mount a bid for either United

News & Media or Carlton Television if the Competition Commission rules

in favour of further ITV consolidation next month. This, Desmond says,

will be pursued at whatever cost is necessary.



It’s a bold position and one that will require a massive injection of

cash - hence the separation of the company’s catering and media

interests and the subsequent partial flotation of the latter.



’As ITV moves to consolidation, we couldn’t allow that to form around

us, especially after the blood and sweat that’s gone into making Granada

what it is today,’ Desmond says.



’What we’re doing now is giving advertisers a range of electronic media

opportunities across our entire portfolio - new opportunities across a

format they trust. The increased movement towards a broadband

proposition plays right into our hands. We are getting into shape so

that we can make a structured move. The template has been set down which

will enable us to focus on our media stock. We can now be compared

like-for-like with our competitors.’



If he does win the opportunity to block the United-Carlton merger -

something many in the industry view as a formality - he’ll be the man

that clients make sure they don’t fall out with.



But advertisers and media agencies may be less than ecstatic as the old

dichotomy of what is good for the broadcaster and what is good for

advertisers rears its head once more.



From a broadcaster’s point of view, consolidation can only be a good

thing, allowing for greater efficiencies. However, advertisers want as

much competition as possible in order to drive prices down but also need

quality programmes to buy into.



So which of his two rivals does Desmond like the look of best?



’The fact of the matter is that we want to increase our size within ITV.

We don’t just want London Weekend and a bunch of northern licences. The

choice facing us is Central, the biggest of the ITV licences, or the two

biggest southern licences. But it’s an impossible question to answer

until we know what the Competition Commission decides,’ he says.



’We need to look beyond where we are now and work back from there. There

will be one owner of ITV within the next three to five years; it’s a

question of how we manage the transition. At the moment we believe there

should be equal size of ownership between two companies and the

proportion of sales that they handle and the type of licences they

hold.’



It’s a grand plan and one that has been well thought out but some have

questioned Desmond’s ability. Asked what he has to enable him to run

commercial sales for 60 per cent of ITV’s output, he answers: ’When

you’ve been in the business for more than 20 years, it makes life a lot

easier.



’I have grown up with the people in this market. I can pick up the phone

and get through to the people I need to. There’s no cold calling with a

proposition - you go and meet someone for a coffee and tell them why you

think something would be good for them.’



By that rationale, half of London should be capable of doing an

admirable job.



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