Media Forum: Can ITV raise its creativity?

Will the network be able to appeal to US broadcasters, Alasdair Reid asks.

Another new dawn at ITV. And, no, we're not talking about Dawn Airey - who was the creative future of the network in a fairly recent vision of its future.

This latest new dawn is the Adam and Archie show - and, last week, the new chief executive and chairman, Adam Crozier and Archie Norman respectively, unveiled their "transformational" strategy for the business. From an advertising perspective, the most interesting angle was the announcement that ITV will attempt to become less reliant on advertising.

Advertising makes up 74 per cent of revenues. The aim is to reduce that figure to 50 per cent. And ITV believes it can achieve this by making viewers pay directly for content on pay-TV platforms, and by making the sorts of hit shows that other broadcasters will buy.

It's a hugely ambitious aim for a company that has had such a patchy history when it comes to in-house creative excellence. The previous boss Michael Grade, who hired Airey to boost its content business, failed in this respect. He had been brought in to pep up the network after Charles Allen's regime.

In the past decade or so, as ITV completed its evolution from a federation into a consolidated company, it has had a handful of programming chiefs, including Marcus Plantin, Simon Shaps, Nigel Pickard and David Liddiment. Yet still it has struggled to make the move into the global big league.

You could argue that ITV hasn't been graced by a true creative genius since Ted Childs (Inspector Morse, Soldier Soldier, Peak Practice, Sharpe, Kavanagh QC) at Central in the 80s. So Crozier is asking a lot, not just of the network's creative leaders (the director of TV, Peter Fincham, and Kevin Lygo, the managing director of ITV Studios), but of the institution as a whole.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that few people at ITV think of themselves as working for a creative company - unsurprising when commitment (not least in investment terms) to creativity has been so inconsistent over the years. And, of course, in recent times, the company has become comfortable buying in programming from independents, not least The X Factor from Simon Cowell's Syco.

So, can ITV rediscover the creative poke to pull this off? Mark Eaves, the managing director of Drum PHD, likes to think so. He says: "Success in the TV business - and particularly in the US - tends to involve companies that see themselves as programme-makers rather than just broadcasters. They are global entertainment companies. I believe Lygo and Fincham make a really compelling proposition - and ITV is right to pursue this strategy. The timing is right because British talent currently commands so much attention in America."

Martin Bowley, the former Carlton Communications sales chief who is now the managing director of Digital Cinema Media, has an interesting perspective because he has regular involvement with the major Hollywood studios. ITV, he says, should be under no illusions about the levels of investment that will be needed. He explains: "One of the reasons why, for example, Toy Story 3 was so good was because they had around a thousand people working on it. There were advantages to ITV's former regional structure, with five studios fighting to get network slots. And over the years, as things have been centralised, there's arguably not been enough investment in creative talent."

No-one should underestimate the challenges. Simon George, a founding partner of the Aegis-backed content business Dazzleship, agrees. He adds: "We really needed this sort of statement of intent - it will help to move the industry forward. For us as a brand integration agency, we're keen for ITV to look to areas outside of conventional spot ads. The interesting thing is that we're at a stage where the whole content battlefield is undefined. Where the personnel question is concerned, I'm sure the people are already there - they just need the right encouragement from the top to come through."

Let's hope so, Emerson Bramwell, the strategy director at MPG Media Contacts, says. His view is underpinned by an appreciation of the way that the BBC (an MPG client) keeps its creative wheels turning. Bramwell adds: "In a competitive market, everyone has to raise their game. I think ITV has also recognised that it needs to rise to the challenges, in particular, of internet TV. When you look at the broader challenges, you'd have to say ITV has the resources to do what it takes. Crozier has a decent track record in driving corporate change."

- Perspective, page 22.

YES - Mark Eaves, managing director, Drum

"UK TV companies in the independent sector and British talent such as Piers Morgan and Jamie Oliver have been successful in selling content to the US. There's no reason why ITV can't become a part of that trend."

MAYBE - Martin Bowley, managing director, DCM

"You need the right platforms if you want to grow global content. It's about investing ahead of the curve. It can be done. You can get creative momentum back. But it can take at least two years to feed through."

YES - Simon George, founding partner, Dazzleship

"ITV is run by proven business leaders - and they can deliver the strong vision from the top. Then they need the right infrastructure and the desire to open themselves up to different conversations."

MAYBE - Emerson Bramwell, strategy director, MPG Media Contacts

"Yes, they've set themselves a high bar. In the past, the issues for ITV have been largely organisational. Crozier is the man to fix that. It won't happen overnight but it makes a real difference when everybody has a clear idea of what needs to be done."


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