CLOSE-UP: NEWSMAKER/STEVE MORRISON - A Granada veteran who enjoys a scheduling scrap. Steve Morrison is bullish in his forecast for Granada's future, Anna Griffiths says

The warm Scottish lilt and easy charm oozes down the phone as I quiz Granada Media's chief executive, Steve Morrison, about the health of ITV and his exceptionally long tenure within its largest TV franchise.

The warm Scottish lilt and easy charm oozes down the phone as I quiz Granada Media's chief executive, Steve Morrison, about the health of ITV and his exceptionally long tenure within its largest TV franchise.

Morrison proudly refers to his reign of 'twenty-six and three-quarter years' at Granada, joining in 1974 as a documentary film-maker before steadily ascending to its top brass. Programming is evidently still a passion of his, and while he has a reputation for occasionally demanding 'do you know who I am?', he apparently doesn't like to be considered 'a suit'.

Pointing out the strengths of ITV's new schedule, which were highlighted this week in its annual ritual dance before advertisers and agencies, is something that comes easily to a man who prizes his programming credentials.

'All the confusion, spinning and mischief doesn't take away from the fact that hardly any channel in the world has a share in peaktime of 40 per cent,' Morrison declares.

In his bullish predictions for Granada and ITV's performance this year, Morrison may well be responding to suggestions last week that ITV's advertising revenue was set to plunge in January and February, as part of an anticipated slowdown in advertising generally.

BARB data reveals that ITV's share of commercial impacts has significantly declined in the past five years. Last year, it had a 50.5 per cent share of individual impacts compared with a 67.2 per cent share in 1995. Rival commercial broadcasters such as Channels 4 and 5 and satellite and cable companies clearly had a significant impact.

Morrison and others within ITV insist advertising revenue may vary from month to month but the overall trend will be healthy. 'We need to get used to wider differences between the months because our mix of advertisers is changing,' Morrison says.

'Although FMCGs are still very strong, they are not as large a proportion of our advertising - we have more finance, electronics and telecoms advertisers who have different needs at different times of the year. The most important thing is that the annual rate of advertising continues to grow at a level of more than 5 per cent.'

There is another reason for a greater confidence within ITV's franchises.

Since the BBC decided to step into the ring and play scheduling fisticuffs with ITV last autumn, the latter has emerged triumphant, increasing its lead from 8.6 share points to 10.5 in last year's final quarter. Whatever gripes advertisers may have had about ITV last year, Morrison believes everyone will be satisfied with this year's line-up. 'We'll give you demographic preference on our channels. We are trying to balance, by zoning, the needs of the mass audience advertiser. Advertisers are getting mass, instant, compelling programming and therefore more compelling advertising.'

By zoning, Morrison is referring to ITV's new strategy of a streamed, consistent schedule that will make it easier to access viewers in the competitive multi-channel home environment.

During the day, ITV will sharpen up its act and chase housewives with children. Between 4-7pm, it will go for children and teenagers, before bringing mass programming on between 7-9pm and targeting ABC1 audiences between 9-10pm with upmarket drama. From 10.20pm, it will be looking to broaden its appeal to 16- to 34-year-olds. Morrison says: 'This evolution is terribly important - it's brightening up, getting lighter, younger programmes.'

Quick to extol the virtues of his own franchise, Morrison is keen to point out that ITV's pledge to maintain the highest supply of five million audiences per programme is supported by the strength of Granada's programming: 'Granada supplies most of the high audience programmes in Britain.' This is a point close to Morrison's heart, since it is his personal tenacity in maintaining Granada's production capabilities during unfashionable times that has seen it become a valued deliverer of content.

Mick Desmond, the chief executive of Granada Enterprises, says: 'If it wasn't for Steve, I suspect that Granada would have got out of production at the time of the last franchise. The fashion then was to become publishers/broadcasters like Meridian and Carlton, and not to be producers/broadcasters. Look at Granada now and without Granada where's ITV? That's a battle he's fought very hard for.'

Those who know and have worked with Morrison attest to his stubborn ways.

One says: 'He's like a Scottish terrier - he's one of those characters who never accepts it can't be done and will try absolutely anything to get it.'

Stuart Prebble, the chief executive of ONdigital, who has worked with Morrison over two decades, adds: 'He has more ideas per square inch than almost anybody I've ever met. A good proportion of them are nonsense, but within those that aren't there are a lot of very worthwhile thoughts.'



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