Amid champagne celebrations commemorating ITV’s 50th anniversary, chief executive Charles Allen has been cutting a swathe through senior management, prompting outsiders to question the depth of malaise at the broadcast giant.
Advertisers and agencies fear their concerns will be forced down the agenda following the dismissal of ITV Broadcasting chief executive Mick Desmond, with the sales team seemingly shouldering the blame for programming errors.
Desmond’s departure last week followed that of ITV Sales managing director Graham Duff a fortnight earlier. Desmond’s job has been split, with chief operating officer Ian McCulloch promoted to commercial director and Granada chief Simon Shaps becoming director of television. Finance director Henry Staunton will leave once a replacement is found.
While Duff’s exit was sudden, but unsurprising to the media community, buyers and advertisers have been shocked by the abrupt departure of Desmond. They warn it may signal a return to ITV’s bully-boy tactics of the past.
The head of media at one major advertiser says: “The degree of change is concerning. We had a lot of faith that Mick, Graham and the team were beginning to show a very different approach for ITV – they were a breath of fresh air.” The source fears clients will suffer as a result of their loss and questions who is now running ITV: “Does such a significant change in senior personnel mean a change of direction?”
Many believe Desmond is the fall guy for Charles Allen’s frustrations at falling audience share and trouble over Contract Rights Renewal (MW last week). Others suggest Allen wielded the axe in order to appease the City and save his skin. He is now thought to be taking a more operational role.
“Desmond has been made a scapegoat,” says one insider. “The sales team was gaining the confidence of advertisers. ITV has managed to hide from its issues all year and has been fairly successful with City announcements despite haemorrhaging viewers. The problem lies with the product.”
With the annual contract negotiation season just weeks away, media buyers must deal with McCulloch. Few know what to expect, although he was at London Weekend News in the early 1980s. But ITV insiders, who say he is “ambitious” and “smart”, expect him to take a more hands-on role. He is not thought to place customer relations high on his agenda.
Paul Philpott, commercial director of Toyota GB, says the first he knew about the restructure was through an e-mail from McCulloch. “We are a major advertiser and perhaps there was a more appropriate way of explaining the changes to us before they happened,” says Philpott.
Another senior advertiser questions the promotion of Shaps, the chief executive of Granada, which was responsible for audience flops including Celebrity Wrestling and Rock Around The Block. “It is ironic that he is taking charge of programming,” he says. He is also concerned that advertisers are going to be represented at a more junior level.
Ian Anders, head of broadcast at Mediaedge:CIA, predicts more changes. He says: “While not necessarily a reflection on the salespeople, ITV is staring down the barrel of a &£100m shortfall in revenue year on year. The focus is going to be on trading through the next three months – how dirty will ITV play? It’s going to be more aggressive than in previous years. It stands to lose a lot of money and I expect it to use every trick in the book.”
The party could be over for ITV, with a long hangover ahead.