Eyre quits ITV to revamp Pearson

Some said he wouldn’t make it. Now the industry will never know whether Richard Eyre could meet his pledge to drive ITV’s audience share up to 40 per cent because ITV’s chief executive is bowing out 12 months before the end of his three-year strategy, leaving ITV without its most persuasive voice at a crucial time in the channel’s fortunes.

Some said he wouldn’t make it. Now the industry will never know

whether Richard Eyre could meet his pledge to drive ITV’s audience share

up to 40 per cent because ITV’s chief executive is bowing out 12 months

before the end of his three-year strategy, leaving ITV without its most

persuasive voice at a crucial time in the channel’s fortunes.



Eyre resigned last week to take up the post of chief executive of

Pearson Television, sending shockwaves round the ad community for whom

he represented hope of a strong ITV in the early years of the next

millennium.



He replaces Greg Dyke, who this week took up the post of

director-general of the BBC. Pearson is the UK’s largest independent TV

production company with a programming portfolio that includes The Bill

and Baywatch.



Eyre’s departure leaves ITV searching for strong leadership and a

credible figurehead at a time when new channels are making in-roads into

its audience share in the growing number of digital households,

advertisers are planning a fresh call for more advertising minutage on

ITV, and Dyke is preparing to reinvigorate the BBC with a major

operational review.



During his two-year tenure as head of the ITV Network Centre, Eyre

earned himself a reputation as a unifying force for the Channel 3

licensees, Carlton, Granada and United News & Media. Before his

appointment, the ITV network had been characterised by in-fighting,

corporate politics and disparate strategies. Yet despite Eyre’s skills

in presenting a united front, there has been speculation that the

disparate interests of the broadcasters may have contributed to his

decision to quit after just two years in the post.



Eyre insisted: ’ITV is not a plc where the shareholders sit on the

sidelines, it’s a joint venture and I certainly couldn’t have achieved

what I have without the support of the broadcasters themselves.’



Those achievements include the appointment of David Liddiment from LWT

as programme director and John Hardie from Procter & Gamble as marketing

director, and the establishment of a new relationship with the ad

community based on a series of audience delivery promises to counter

spiralling ad costs with higher viewing figures.



Last year’s target of 38 per cent share of the peaktime TV audience was

delivered and the network is on course to meet this year’s goal of 39

per cent.



Bob Wootton, the director of media affairs at the Incorporated Society

of British Advertisers, said: ’Richard has achieved an ITV which has a

more open dialogue with advertisers than ever before, which has laid

down actionable targets and achieved them, and which has really shown it

can fight back against the competition.



’But achieving its 40 per cent peaktime audience share target next year

is a tall order and its all-time share continues to erode.’



Ray Kelly, the chief executive of Carat in northern Europe and head of

the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising’s media policy group,

added his testament to Eyre’s successes: ’There’s absolutely no doubt

that Richard Eyre has been extremely good for ITV. I’m not sure how much

the progress in audience figures is down to Richard, but he achieved

what he said he was going to.’



Eyre also managed to get the ITV sales operations behind his new-look

ITV. Martin Bowley, the chief executive of Carlton Sales, said: ’Richard

is the only person I know who has disproved King Canute’s theory. He’s

done what they said couldn’t be done, turned ITV around and put some

real energy into it.’



Eyre said he was leaving ITV at the end of its first phase. ’The scale

of change we’ve achieved in two years would have taken many other

organisations much longer. Now ITV is moving into its second phase, into

the digital environment, and it seems the right time to hand over the

baton. I leave ITV with a brilliant management and commissioning team

fully able to sustain the momentum of the turnaround.’



At Pearson, Eyre will take on a lacklustre TV operation with a brief to

develop the company’s business base into new-media arenas. ’Pearson

Television is poised to take advantage of the huge opportunities offered

by digital expansion and the internet. The challenge of leading the

company and its team of talented people in this new world, while

building relationships in its current markets, is irresistible,’ Eyre

said.



The company is also widely tipped to attempt a move out of programme

supply and into broadcasting by increasing its stake in Channel 5.

Pearson already holds a 24 per cent stake in the fifth terrestrial

broadcaster.



Eyre is due to join Pearson in the new year and his remuneration is

likely to be in line with Dyke’s, whose package, including bonus, was

pounds 768,000 in his last year at Pearson.