It's not the jolliest time to be at the helm of ITV. Advertising
revenues are tumbling, ITV investment is being stretched to invest in
digital and new channels and there's a significant skirmish over the low
ratings for ITV's new football programming.
David Liddiment, recently promoted from ITV's director of programmes to
director of channels, needs to smile on through and entertain
advertisers and viewers alike with lots of great television. And
Liddiment is smiling: "I'm one of those people who loves my job. I'm
passionate about it. I love TV, I love programmes and I get high on
Despite the recent criticism, Liddiment, who delivered the keynote
MacTaggart lecture at the Edinburgh Television Festival last week, has
certainly earned confidence in his ability. When he arrived at the
Network Centre in the autumn of 1997, it was another rather poor moment
in time for ITV.
Along with the then chief executive, Richard Eyre, and the marketing
director, John Hardie, Liddiment started to turn things round. They may
not have hit all the ambitious targets that they pledged to reach, but
even rival Mark Thompson, director of TV at the BBC, says that Liddiment
and his programming team "brought real boldness and flair".
The biggest score has been with Who Wants to be a Millionaire?, while
Popstars has also been cult viewing. But Survivor, ITV's answer to Big
Brother, hasn't done the trick and there's been a bit of a lull.
According to former colleague Jerry Hill, now chief operating officer at
Initiative Media, Liddiment is "a massively resilient individual and a
resourceful individual. He's remarkably in tune with what the public
wants." He will need to be, with an ITV revenue deficit of £175
million year on year, according to figures from Optimedia.
His track record backs up assertions that he has plenty of commercial
nous as well as creative ability. His career started in 1974 at the ad
agency Benton & Bowles. A year later he'd crossed into TV at Granada,
where he spent the best part of 20 years, apart from a two-year sojourn
as the head of entertainment at the BBC. Along the way, he was put in
charge of Coronation Street, devised This Morning and commissioned
Cracker, Men Behaving Badly and Fantasy Football League. His last job
before moving to the Network Centre was managing director of Granada UK
So, has he got the stamina to keep the hits coming? "Given the revenue
situation, we are aware that ITV must put its best foot forward,"
answers Liddiment, who has just launched the new autumn programme
schedule. As well as spin-offs from Popstars in the shape of Soapstars
and Pop Idols, there's the new soap Night and Day, which will have
raunchier editions playing after the watershed.
Saturday night is a thorny issue. Never fear, Blind Date's still there,
but ITV's new Premiership football highlights programme is in the seven
o'clock spot and a lot of people are nervous about that after its first
outings scored ratings firmly below the five million mark.
Liddiment says: "As far as our sports proposition is concerned, ITV has
been forward in making premium sport free to air. It has invested in
Formula One, Champions League and now the Premiership. In that sense
we're serving our advertisers splendidly. Premiership is two weeks old.
No show is perfect in its first weeks. There's a long way to go before
we work out if I've been foolhardy or not."
He has had to assume more responsibility than his job title implies,
having worked without an ITV chief executive for more than a year until
Stuart Prebble took over in April this year. But the fact that he was
chosen to deliver the MacTaggart lecture, treading in the footsteps of
such luminaries as Greg Dyke, the director-general of the BBC, speaks
volumes for the respect in which he is held.
Clearly he draws strength from his love affair with TV. It's an
enthusiasm that, according to Mick Desmond, the managing director of
Granada Broadcasting, "screams at you". Liddiment recently sat next to
John Perriss, the chairman of Zenith, at a 30 Club dinner. The two had
never spoken together at any length before. They discussed British
"I was amazed by his in-depth knowledge of Benny Hill, Dick Emery and
his sense of the heritage of good British comedy. He has a real passion
for TV," Perriss says.