MEDIA PERSPECTIVE: ITV's new network chief puts a plaster over a deep wound

So ITV has given what is arguably its most important job to the

least charismatic (apparently) and most unshowy of all possible

candidates, Stuart Prebble, a man who's risen without trace.



Prebble has been quietly simmering in the seeping lifeblood of ONdigital

for the last few years. Now, as the new chief executive of the ITV

network, the dour Prebble seems an odd choice. His track record as a

programmer might be beyond question (former editor of World In Action),

but his ONdigital tenure has hardly been a back-slapping success. He has

spent around pounds 300 million a year on customer acquisition and

retention and with this bounty has presided over ONdigital's tortuous

inching towards a meagre subscriber base of one million (though churn

rates are now said to be higher than new subscriptions). He's also spent

pounds 30 million a year building the ONdigital brand, which is now to

be scrapped because it has neither the saliency not the brand values to

survive long-term.



It's important to remember that Prebble can't be held wholly responsible

for the pitiful performance of ONdigital, not least because he wasn't in

charge when the brand launched. And apart from the appaling positioning

(why did anyone think that limited choice was ever going to be a selling

point), and the truly dreadful line-up of channels, in the early days

particularly (remember Carlton World and Carlton Select), trying to

compete with Murdoch on a like-for-like basis was a fight lost before

the starting bell rang. What Prebble has clearly done is prove himself

an acceptable pair of hands (or at the very least not a wave-maker) for

his Carlton and Granada paymasters. Even so, is he really the man to

front the best brand in UK commercial broadcasting?



It's wholly appropriate, of course. ITV couldn't find anyone who wanted

to be its chief executive and at the same time ONdigital couldn't find

enough people who wanted to subscribe. So two wrongs have been brought

together in the hope that a right will pop up somewhere along the line

and Carlton and Granada's massive (pounds 700 million-or-so) investment

in ONdigital might just come good if it's brought closer to the

mothership.



Carlton and Granada seem to finally acknowledge that throwing cash at

trash doesn't maketh a pot of gold, merely a black hole. A pile of tat

will always be a pile of tat, even if you spend pounds 30 million

advertising the damn thing as the very latest must-have. Their decision

to retrench into the ITV name with a more centralised structure is the

obvious and sensible sticking plaster, but it is not a surefire

lifeline.



The real question is whether digital terrestrial broadcasting has any

meaningful future. History would suggest that when two rival

technologies are competing in the same home entertainment marketplace,

one will generally win out. For once, I'm not backing ITV.



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