Raymond Snoddy on media: ITV's future lies in looking at the past

The ITV share price may have gone up marginally, but over the past few days, the newspapers have made grim reading for the company's executive chairman, Michael Grade.

For The Guardian, Grade, the great creative, has gradually morphed into Charles Allen, relying on cost cuts and regulatory handouts to keep his head above water. And Allen was the better accountant.

The Independent was unkind enough to dwell on the past and mourn the death of 'ITV's glory days'. Remember This Week and World in Action, not to mention Weekend World and the recently deceased The Sunday Edition, the last specialist political programme of any kind on ITV?

Can studio-based, weekend political programmes at strange hours really cost so much, even when considering the costs of playing something recorded and a million miles more vacuous?

They may not have had big audiences, but at least there was a reputational gain, which may have been difficult to quantify. Headlines were made for the Monday papers, and politicians were given a platform; the same politicians who could influence Mr Grade's all-important regulatory game plan.

How very short-sighted, just as it was extraordinarily short-sighted to oppose BSkyB's 19% share stake in ITV when ITV could have had a protective barrier of being owned by a company legally prevented from buying more than 20%. This situation started the share price slice.

For The Sunday Times, the emphasis was on the revisionism that has overtaken the 'Great Plan'. Only a couple of weeks ago, Grade was saying that the City liked his original plan and the challenge for him was to deliver on it.

But which plan? Last week The Sunday Times noted Grade had sliced £200m off the £1.2bn he promised to generate from the programme-making arm by 2012. There was also backsliding on the pledge to gain an income of £150m from online - put back from 2010 to 2012.

As The Observer pointed out, while overall revenues for the half-year reached £832m - down £10m compared with last time - online had managed to go all the way from £16m to £17m.

It would add up to an entertaining item for What The Papers Say. Sorry, that's been canned hasn't it? Another loss of revenue for ITV production, but also a loss for the BBC.

Some technologically correct BBC executive declared that how people received their news had changed. He was right - only about 12m copies of national newspapers are bought every day.

On that argument, it wouldn't be worth running the BBC News at Ten any more because not many people watch it. You can see what Grade is up against.

But what is to be done? Luckily, help is at hand. A whole hour of the festival is being devoted to the issue in a session on 'how to save ITV'.

A top panel will wrack their brains to come up with the best-quality solutions. Rupert Howell of ITV will probably present the case for the defence. David Elstein, who was involved in a takeover attempt in the recent past, will, on recent form, argue the place could be better managed. Steve Morrison, chairman of giant independent All3Media, will know where the bodies are buried - and not just on Midsomer Murders.

The greatest value in terms of creativity could come from Kelvin MacKenzie. Never mind abolishing the Contract Rights Renewal ad-buying scheme, how about a new show about the press, presented by a portly gent who used to edit a tabloid? It might just do the trick.

- Raymond Snoddy is a media journalist and presenter of BBC Television's Newswatch


- The annual festival is held at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre. This year's festival is the 33rd, and will run from 22-24 August.

- Sponsored by MediaGuardian, the festival is a charitable event run by senior figures from the TV industry, and aims to provide a forum for debate and ideas, as well as developing talent.

- The festival was founded in 1976. Its first incarnation was as a two-day retrospective of the work of broadcaster James MacTaggart, intended for inclusion in the Edinburgh International Film Festival. The response was such that it secured funding for a standalone event the following year.

- This year's keynote speech will be given by ITV's Peter Fincham. Previous speakers have included Jeremy Paxman and Greg Dyke.

- Richard and Judy are due to present a masterclass this year.