NEWSMAKER/STEWART BUTTERFIELD: Channel 4 man reveals grand plans for Granada - Stewart Butterfield intends to update ITV’s tired image, Stephen Armstrong writes

When you ring around TV buying directors and ask them about Stewart Butterfield they all say similar things. ’He’s very bright,’ they say, ’but he’s a bit of a backroom boy.’

When you ring around TV buying directors and ask them about Stewart

Butterfield they all say similar things. ’He’s very bright,’ they say,

’but he’s a bit of a backroom boy.’



Some even suggest that Andy Barnes, Channel 4’s sales director, had more

to do with the growth in Channel 4 revenue than Butterfield, his boss

and the sales and marketing director.



Granted, Barnes is a skilful and wily negotiator and a prodigious sales

talent, but to attribute the station’s success purely to him is not

merely unfair, it’s just plain wrong. But then, everyone’s always been

wrong about Stewart Butterfield.



He’s just defected to ITV from Channel 4 to take over as managing

director of Granada UK Broadcasting (Campaign, last week). He’s been at

Channel 4 since 1991 and, when he was appointed, people were dubious

about his suitability. Both the City analysts and the time-buying

community agreed Butterfield would struggle to reach 14 per cent of

ITV’s revenue. One analyst said confidently that Channel 4 would

struggle to reach 8 per cent. Of course the station is now taking 21.9

per cent of total terrestrial TV ad revenue and 20 per cent of TV

revenue and he’s been so successful that Channel 4 has had to pay out

some pounds 200 million to ITV as a result of the funding formula to

date. Michael Grade’s struggle to reverse the formula was as important

to him as his struggle against privatisation and it’s all Butterfield’s

fault for being a success.



It may be hard to remember but, before he arrived, Channel 4 didn’t

advertise its programmes to the public at all. Indeed, no television

station in the UK advertised its programmes as a matter of course. In

Butterfield’s first year, he secured a modest marketing budget of pounds

4 million and began the process of building Channel 4 as a brand to the

viewer and the trade.



This is now so commonplace with all TV stations that it seems difficult

to believe the idea is only seven years old in this country.



To those who accuse Butterfield of being ’a bit cerebral but not

hard-nosed enough’, it is worth pointing out that the two members of

Channel 4’s staff who worked the hardest on the Big Breakfast were

Butterfield and Andrea Wonfor, the then controller of arts and

entertainment at Channel 4 and now joint managing director at Granada’s

production arm.



The significance of such co-operation should not be underestimated.



It shows how programmers and commercial departments can work together to

produce programmes which revolutionise television creativity and pull in

huge sums of cash.



’We sat down together and decided that this daypart should pay its own

way,’ he says. ’We knew there was a gap in the market for a programme

that appealed to young people and schoolchildren and was bright and

innovative.



At the time, we had the Channel 4 Daily, a rather worthy daily news

format and everyone pooh-poohed our idea. It was Planet 24 who had the

genius to create the programme as it was, with Chris Evans and Gaby

Roslin. They were able to capture the word of mouth in the playground

and in the colleges, but it was Andrea and I who created the brief in

the first place.’



Having helped mould the Big Breakfast and create the kind of marketing

that now seems commonplace, Butterfield went on to sort out a funding

structure that would allow the growth of advertiser-supplied programming

in the UK while ensuring Channel 4’s cautious programming department

maintained its integrity, hence the existence of Pepsi’s Passengers

which managed to avoid the pitfalls of Heineken’s Hotel Babylon and

still push advertising-supplied programming forward in the UK.

Hard-nosed enough for you? I think so.



It’s intriguing that Butterfield will join ITV just a few weeks after

Richard Eyre’s appointment to the Network Centre’s chief executive

position was announced. That’s two 80s media directors who are charged

with turning around the fortunes of a network which has most ’80s’

adlanders seething with righteous fury. Is this a coincidence?



’Being media director does give you the ability to understand how to

handle creativity while retaining a sharp commercial edge,’ Butterfield

comments. ’It must give us an edge because you don’t normally get people

running television companies who are in their 40s.’



Does the death of the full-service agency mean that a career path like

Butterfield’s is no longer open to budding media buyers?



’I suppose in a way it does,’ he says. ’The skills of someone running

Zenith or TMD are very different to the old-style media director,

although I’m sure someone like Christine Walker would be able to do

anything she put her mind to. It takes different kinds of people to do

different jobs and dealing with creatives is not a big requirement for

the large buying houses.’



Butterfield himself, while not quite worshipping at the altar of

creativity, clearly holds it in high regard. He is a keen music buff,

although his last rock concert was David Bowie at Milton Keynes in the

early 90s because ’I overheard someone saying ’it’s not Woodstock

anymore’ as I walked past’, and he relishes all aspects of highbrow and

lowbrow popular culture. That’s fortunate, given his vision on ITV.



’It’s about being the popular culture network for the 90s,’ he comments.

’Innovation is not necessarily a theme that ITV should pursue

desperately. We are a mainstream channel and should be appealing to a

mainstream audience. Having said that, it’s important that ITV realises

this is 1997 and not 1977. Britain is more diverse and those old ideas

are worth revisiting.’



Butterfield knows that soaps and popular drama are strong on the network

but is wary of complacency. He points out that entertainment in

particular is looking tired, both on the BBC and ITV.



He believes ITV needs to look at the big shows, such as Gladiators and

Blind Date, and see if there are new programmes that can do as well for

the channel today as they did when they were launched. ’I don’t mean we

should return to variety and Saturday Night at the Palladium,’ he

says.



’I mean, we should produce the best programmes that appeal to the mood

of the times.’ At this point, he is on the point of saying ’Zeitgeist’

but he manages to stop himself in time. ’That’s where the challenges

are.’



Unfortunately, Butterfield is uttering the mantra of every new ITV

appointee that has joined the network since 1990. It has been said by

programme-makers, sales directors, accountants and City whizzkids since

the 1990 Broadcasting Bill and BSkyB tore the network’s pretty little

monopoly into shreds. ’It’s a great challenge,’ the new recruit says

cheerfully. ’We face a rocky patch but I think we can turn it around.’

So what makes Butterfield think he can effect this change?



’It’s different because ITV has reached a situation where it has to do

something,’ he says. ’This may be more significant for Richard (Eyre)

than it is for me, But Granada Broadcasting still makes 90 per cent of

its revenue from ITV. ITV needs to get something done because if it

doesn’t the consequences will be disastrous. If it gets it right, ITV

will be a big brand and a big player for decades to come.’



John Perriss, the chairman of Zenith Worldwide, agrees with

Butterfield.



’The pressure is growing and the numbers are crowding in on ITV. The

next few years will see it losing the Channel 4 payments, declining in

share as the other guys grow and making heavy licence fee payments after

all the cost-stripping has been done and as the price of programmes

rises.’



Perriss pauses and contemplates the gloomy picture he has painted. ’If

it’s any consolation,’ he adds cheerfully, ’I think Stewart will be good

at his job.’



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