Wednesday, November 29, 2006

More on ITV

So just when you think ITV has lost the plot they bring a rabbit from out of the hat. BBC now facing some issues (chief one being licence fee but also approval for the iplayer to sort out).

Mr. Grade is charismatic and was not suited; in my view to the very political post that chairman of the BBC Trust would be - I tip Portillo for that one..

Here's a piece I wrote before the bombshell was dropped, it sort of stands up but one of the best players has just joined the other side and the game's a bit more even (my own go at a dodgy football analogy).

The battle for ITV’s Control.
ITV has in the last couple of weeks seen a flurry of activity resulting in the TV network’s share price being driven to a peak of around 115p the price has now settled to a little over 111p still a considerable improvement on mid-September when it was hovering around the £1.00 mark. So why the increase and interest in ITV and how is it likely to affect the UK’s TV viewers over the next few years?
The UK’s top commercial broadcaster has suffered a loss of audience while the number of multi channel digital TV homes has leapt over the last 4 years to over 18 million homes but it remains the first stop for advertisers who want to reach the UK population ‘en masse’, it has a weekly reach of around 80% of the potential UK TV viewers, it has near universal coverage and a strategy that is showing signs of success in bringing its audience with it into the segmented market that now characterises broadcast TV.
Now there’s discussion if it was James Murdoch the Sky CEO or his Dad Rupert the Chairman or a combination of the two who managed the coup that delivered 17.9% of ITV to Sky but a coup it most certainly was and at present it appears successful, although Skys’ official line is that it does not want undue influence and that ‘Our investment is a long-term and supportive shareholding in ITV’ ‘ it is undoubtedly a case of Sky getting it’s retaliation in first.
The respected media commentator Raymond Snoddy has a theory which he’s floated in Brand Republic the theory goes along the lines that Sky are lining up RTL to buy ITV, RTL are historically a free to air broadcaster and won’t spoil Skys’ hold on the UK pay TV business. Sky will in time take Channel 5 off the current owner RTLs’ hands at a knock down price, this certainly has logic to it but the price for Five will have to be a heavily discounted one; it’s noticeably failing to win audience share and its own multi channel strategy has a question mark hanging over it.
The headline interest for NTL is that ITV has content and it reckons that the combination of NTL and ITV will constitute a combined operation that can give Sky a run for its money when bidding for attractive films and top notch sports. Flextech the content provider the outfit owns currently delivers profit but this is underpinned by a deal with BBC Worldwide that is favourable to the cable giant but which will in due course be renegotiated.
Sir Richard Branson the largest shareholder NTL is performing as spokesperson for the deal and is keen to be seen as the wounded party as he was in his earlier giant killer’ battles with British Airways rather than a shareholder in a US listed hostile bidder, NTL is in the process of re-branding itself as Virgin Media and in the last 12 months has merged with both Telewest and Virgin Mobile, the cable company has shown ambition in spades but historically has repeatedly failed to deliver and NTL in the past have failed to gain the subscribers it desires or address the poor service reputation it holds.
The challenge for ITV’s board is to speedily fill the whole left by Charles Allens’ departure with a CEO who can offer vision and inspiration, ITV has a number of channels and a potentially significant ‘new media’ brand in Friends Reunited but it has to look at monetizing its content as well as providing the brand that advertisers can rely on to deliver audiences to its commercials.
The next few weeks will be potentially amongst the most significant of ITV’s illustrious history and the difference between holding the number 3 button for posterity on the nations TV’s and becoming a mere also ran will be decided. Sky may prove to have delivered ITV from a fate worse than death, but the ITV board should watch its new best friend carefully, it’s pushed itself into the driving seat and it’ll be a powerful force that can grab the wheel away.
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