ITV snatches ex-Telewest chief for digital launches

ITV has lured Christine Mitchell, Telewest’s former programming chief, to spearhead the launch of digital TV channels.

The move is one of the biggest pointers yet to ITV’s ambition. The commercial station is tipped to follow the launch of ITV2 with a children’s channel this year.

Mitchell, a highly regarded executive with more than 16 years’ experience in the broadcast industry, joins ITV on a short-term contract with a brief to develop a multichannel strategy.

At Telewest, she was responsible for establishing the cable company’s contracts with programme suppliers, such as BSkyB, Flextech and Viacom, to create a digital TV service. She also oversaw the 53 analogue channels already on air.

Meanwhile, ITV achieved a 38.8 per cent peak-time share for 1999 – a whisker away from its 39 per cent target and one per cent higher than 1998 (37.9 per cent).

The axing of News at Ten and the phenomenal success of the quizshow Who Wants to be a Millionaire were largely responsible for the upturn.

Richard Eyre, ITV’s outgoing chief executive, says: “It remains unprecedented in world broadcasting that the decline of a mainstream channel should be reversed.”

ITV marketing and commercial director John Hardie says: “In a year when BSkyB and OnDigital have been giving away set-top boxes and Channel 5 has continued to grow, our performance has been pretty remarkable.”

Senior management will receive bonuses for the channel’s improvement, judged on a sliding scale.

Eyre is to become chief executive of Pearson Television at the end of this month. He delivers his swansong to advertisers – an annual overview of ITV’s performance – in less than two weeks time.

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