Media Headliner: Why UKTV's trading chief is in it for the long haul

Despite being passed over for the chief executive's role, Julia Jordan is still full of ideas for the channels.

When Julia Jordan spoke at the Westminster Media Forum last week, she used the opportunity to lay into ITV and call for a full review of the TV trading market. Yet she's not your typical TV trader. Well-spoken with a degree from the Guildhall School of Music & Drama, she started in sales in 1985 and has risen to become the executive director of business and operations and acting chief executive at UKTV.

And, under Jordan, the broadcaster, which is a joint venture between BBC Worldwide and Virgin Media, isn't messing around. Just a month after BSkyB agreed to buy Virgin Media Television, UKTV announced that it is moving its own ad sales contract out of Virgin Media's ids and into Channel 4, prompting the closure of ids.

Coincidently, UKTV's former chief executive David Abraham took the top role at Channel 4 in May but Jordan says, despite being "supportive of the principles", he was not closely involved in the deal, which will be worth in excess of £1 billion in revenue over ten years.

"It was nothing to do with Abraham," Jordan says. "He has a marketing background and wasn't involved in the commercial side of things at UKTV. Ad sales deals are quite complicated and I'm sure he wouldn't know where to start."

Jordan says the Channel 4 deal is not a precursor to stronger links between Channel 4 and BBC Worldwide and is "just an ad sales contract" and she argues that she had no choice but to hatch the deal once the ad sales contract for VMTV moved out of ids and into Sky. Without VMTV, Jordan contends, ids would have struggled to "get to the top table" during the trading season. "Last year, ids did a fantastic job," Jordan insists.

"Our ad revenue did not go down in a market that was down 12 per cent. However, TV trading is very commoditised."

While Jordan is full of praise for ids' innovation and flexibility, she argues that the Channel 4 sales team "is one of the most creative". The Channel 4 sales director, Andy Barnes, is currently reviewing the structure of the sales team, with the help of Boston Consulting Group, but from next year Channel 4 will have a share of around 25 per cent of the TV market, against ITV's 41 per cent and Sky's 18 per cent. Further consolidation seems inevitable should RTL accept an offer for Five.

But UKTV seems in good shape to compete. Under Abraham's leadership, UKTV completed a rebrand of its ten channels in June 2009 when UKTV Food became Good Food. And while some channels have performed better than others, Jordan says that the company is strongly profitable. And Virgin Media's results support this. It received a net income of £6.9 million in the first three months of 2010 from its 50 per cent share in UKTV, suggesting that the broadcaster makes annual profits in excess of £50 million.

Jordan started in TV ad sales straight from university and has worked in commercial television for more than 20 years at Carlton, Channel 4, ids and UKTV, and she is well liked and respected at media agencies. Chris Hayward, the trading director at ZenithOptimedia, says: "Though she's moved away from sales to a wider management position, she still has a good nose for how sales works. She's very intelligent, cerebral and meticulous."

Her former boss Abraham concurs: "Julia is very well respected in the industry and it's important to have such a high-profile woman. It's unusual to find someone with such a clear understanding of both trading and the operational side of the business."

Despite the heavy preponderance of testosterone on TV trading floors, Jordan says she has never felt that her gender has impacted her career and her husband stays at home to look after the children so they are not both "juggling" full-time jobs and family life.

However, there appear to be limits to how far Jordan will progress at UKTV. Its owners recently told her that she will not be its next permanent chief executive but, despite industry rumours that Abraham would like to be reunited with her at Channel 4, she insists that she is committed to a long-term future at UKTV.

While UKTV's search for Abraham's replacement is ongoing, Jordan argues that regardless of who this turns out to be, the broadcaster will invest in content and promoting its channels. There will be more newly commissioned content on Dave, which is currently its most successful channel in ad terms, and a marketing campaign for Gold launches this week starring Suggs and the band Madness.

UKTV is currently working on a refresh of the lifestyle channel Watch that languishes behind ITV2 and BBC Three with 0.4 per cent of viewing. Jordan insists it is not a rebrand but an attempt to reinvigorate a channel that has not yet reached its potential, especially at peaktime.

She argues that this is part of UKTV's "amphibious strategy", meaning that it is looking to expand its channels beyond the audio- visual environment. "It's about extending our footprint and creating something tangible that advertisers want to engage with beyond the TV screen," Jordan says.

Despite missing out on the top job, Jordan is still full of ideas for UKTV, whether it's launching "pull" video-on-demand by the end of the year or putting its channels on different platforms. UKTV's next boss will have an erudite and dedicated lieutenant, with her own ideas, right behind them.

THE LOWDOWN
Age: 48
Lives: The media village of Ealing ... and a few weeks a year on the
island of Evia, Greece
Family: Hubbie John, daughters Eliza and Daphne, fat cat Salvador
Most treasured possession: Our house on a hillside in Greece
Favourite TV shows: Total Wipeout (Watch), Cougar Town (Living TV),
Three In A Bed (Channel 4)
Interests: Vintage netball, yoga, piano, learning Greek
Motto: Never put off until tomorrow what can be done today

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