MEDIA FORUM: Will Eyre’s departure herald a downturn for ITV? Hard act to follow, that Richard Eyre. ITV’s chief executive will leave the network in fine fettle when he joins Pearson Television in the new year But that won’t make i

Who’s going to be brave enough to fill Richard Eyre’s shoes? When the announcement was first made two years ago that Eyre was to become ITV’s first chief executive, two responses tended to follow. First, ’what a stroke of genius on ITV’s part’, and second, ’what a potentially dodgy decision on Richard’s part’. This, supposedly, was television’s hospital pass, the ultimate in responsibility without real power. Supposedly the network’s three main owners, Carlton, United News & Media and Granada, were like a trio of hoodlums in a 40s B-movie, just itching for the opportunity to bump each other off.

Who’s going to be brave enough to fill Richard Eyre’s shoes? When

the announcement was first made two years ago that Eyre was to become

ITV’s first chief executive, two responses tended to follow. First,

’what a stroke of genius on ITV’s part’, and second, ’what a potentially

dodgy decision on Richard’s part’. This, supposedly, was television’s

hospital pass, the ultimate in responsibility without real power.

Supposedly the network’s three main owners, Carlton, United News & Media

and Granada, were like a trio of hoodlums in a 40s B-movie, just itching

for the opportunity to bump each other off.



Everyone agreed that if anyone could succeed, it would be Eyre - and

succeed he duly did. Well, up to a point. He succeeded in extracting

budget commitments from the big three; he succeeded in setting up a

credible management structure that centralised decision-making on all

the important marketing, programme commissioning and scheduling issues.

And in John Hardie, ITV marketing director, and David Liddiment, the

channel’s programme director, he attracted talent to ensure that the

right decisions were taken. He created a new sense of optimism about

ITV’s future; he lobbied successfully for the Government to give it

leeway when it came to issues such as scrapping the News at Ten. Last,

but not least, he set tough audience targets and went about meeting

them.



But it’s when you look at these audience targets that you begin to

appreciate just how good Eyre’s timing might be - there are many in the

industry who believe that the 40 per cent peaktime share target will not

be met by the end of 2000. It was always going to be downhill from here

on in and Eyre has managed to squeeze every last drop of success out of

the role. A successor will not only fail, but he or she will always

suffer from comparison with Eyre.



In short, this time around, the job might be even harder to fill. Jim

Marshall, the chief executive of MediaVest, certainly believes that

could be true. When times are tough - and ITV backs were very much to

the wall a couple of years ago - people will make promises that they’re

tempted to break. And then there’s the fact that the broadcast

environment has changed. Marshall explains: ’The truce within ITV -

especially between Carlton and Granada - has looked fragile and will

disappear when the prospect of further ITV consolidation becomes a

reality. Both Carlton and Granada have been under pressure because of

the relatively poor performance of ONdigital. One of Eyre’s great

successes was in persuading the ITV companies to increase programme

budgets - this might be increasingly hard to sustain.



The other factor could be a recovery in BBC fortunes. Greg Dyke is

competitive and populist in his approach to programming and he will

almost certainly go after ITV.’



Any assessment of the difficulty of the task facing ITV will depend on

your view of how solid Eyre’s legacy will be. Did he win the battles

that matter once and for all, and does he bequeath a structure than can

be run by lesser mortals?



Mick Desmond, the chief executive of Granada media sales, argues that

the important matters have all been secured. He adds: ’One of the

greatest successes is a commitment to budgets three years in advance.

That allows for genuine planning and must give everyone confidence that

things will remain very settled on that front. I think we need someone

to work with David Liddiment and allow him to get on with his job,

protecting his creative role from the shareholders.’



But what about those who believe all the good work could be threatened

by renewed internal tensions at the network? Desmond can’t see it: ’We

are more willing to work for it because we have seen what can be

achieved - we have had two years of genuine revenue growth. There is a

huge vested interest in maintaining a common purpose. The theory behind

some of the manoeuvring of old within ITV was that you might risk a bit

to gain a lot. Now I think that everyone accepts you will lose a lot to

gain a little.’



If Eyre has any niggling disappointments about his reign, it must be the

fact that he failed to win over the Incorporated Society of British

Advertisers - and pleasing advertisers surely ranked pretty highly in

his job description. Will the new chief have to work on this? Is ISBA

hard, if not impossible, to please? Bob Wootton, ISBA’s director of

media and advertising affairs, says you have to appreciate the pressure

most advertisers are under. He comments: ’Retailers are asking

manufacturers how much lower prices are going to be next year. Then

those manufacturers turn to ITV, which tells them how much more

expensive it’s going to be next year. That is bound to lead to a tense

situation.



’Broadly, though, we have been very supportive. For instance, we have

been quiet about ITV’s total share, which has been heading in the wrong

direction, as opposed to its share of peaktime. I have been getting the

feeling that ITV is preparing to detach itself from the 40 per cent

share of peak commitment. But we will continue to be supportive and I am

sure the right person can be found for the job. My only hope is that ITV

is both ambitious and rigorous in its selection procedure.’



Do rival channels hope for the opposite? Michael Jackson, the chief

executive of Channel 4, points out that his channel continues to

outperform the market whatever the state of ITV’s fortunes. But he can’t

see ITV returning to its old ways. He states: ’The most important thing

is that ITV recognised something had to be done or a continued decline

was inevitable. ITV has got its act together and a lot of sensible

things have been done, but they’ve not been things that have been all

that extraordinary - good leadership will provide them. ITV will

continue to do the right things. We don’t tend to worry about what other

channels are up to and that’s increasingly the way of it these days -

you have to concentrate on what you’re doing yourself and plough your

own furrow.’



Become a member of Campaign

Get the very latest news and insight from Campaign with unrestricted access to campaignlive.co.uk , plus get exclusive discounts to Campaign events

Become a member

Looking for a new job?

Get the latest creative jobs in advertising, media, marketing and digital delivered directly to your inbox each day.

Create an alert now

Partner content