MEDIA PERSPECTIVE: Place your bets as the rocky ride into 2003 gets started

As agencies and media owners struggle to reach targets, there is a real shortage of work around for many of the rank and file. Not so for those starting the year at the upper echelons of the business. Those responsible for running companies into, and through, this difficult period have had plenty of chance to improve their careers and line their pockets.

There have been more chief executive vacancies in media lately than gaps in the cast of Coronation Street following Richard Hillman's recent killing spree. Trinity Mirror, Emap and, now, Ofcom have all recently selected new guns while Five and IPC are still on the hunt.

But, in light of Stephen Carter's anticipated arrival at Ofcom, what are the prospects for the new runners?

First to Carter. The stylish colt is not noted for his performance over long distances but his time as the chief executive of J. Walter Thompson and the managing director of ntl should help him understand the needs of advertisers and large media owners. He is likely to find the task of leading the new super regulator to be an uphill struggle as fighting media owners and layers of bureaucracy bring their frustrations. Going: Very heavy. Form: Varied. Prediction: Fast from the off, but tiring at the finish.

Trinity Mirror's Sly Bailey is a spirited filly with a strong and fiery performance lurking beneath a friendly demeanour. Her time running IPC, a job that, despite the challenges, did not involve its chief executive getting her hands dirty with the City, will barely have prepared her for the difficulties ahead at Trinity Mirror. But expect Bailey to surround herself with known stablemates and make hard, fair decisions before leaving for a larger City stable in about two years' time. Going: Heavy. Form: Strong at a lower grade. Prediction: Potential winner but outside chance of early fall.

The steadiest mount is likely to be Tom Moloney, hardly a new boy at the former East Midlands-based powerhouse Emap. After 20-plus years at the publisher there can be little doubt that he will prove a solid, capable performer. Early indications are that he's unlikely to make an early dash for glory but may pull a few surprises out of the hat launch-wise, while remaining committed to Emap's cross-media development by staying in radio and aiming to grow the group post-Communications Bill. Going: Good. Form: Fair. Prediction: Has the stamina to last the distance.

Of the two remaining jobs to be filled, the Five post is the more difficult to assess. You could view the role one of two ways. Pessimists, me included, would suggest that Dawn Airey and Nick Milligan's team took the channel about as far as it could go in its current form so chances will be limited until programming budgets change. Optimists would argue that this is one of the best jobs in media, presenting unique and diverse challenges. But then they probably possess Michael Owen's nose for a winner.


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