September 25th, 2009
Brit TV channels are going through a bit of an executive re-shuffle as Andy Duncan is clearing his desk at Channel Four and Michael Grade stubs-out his last Montecristo on the pavement outside ITV. Careers at the top can have quite mundane endings. Today, a surprising announcement reveals the sands continue to shift.
Both Andy Duncan and Michael Grade, have had tough jobs in the world of commercial TV, though their remits are simple, make programmes and make lots of money from advertising. A bit like Mohamed Al Fayed, owner of Harrods, buy goods, sell them and make lots of money. Harrods of course is renown for being an upmarket store, selling the best quality to discerning buyers. Aha! Sadly, both Andy and Michael failed to make the money for their businesses, indeed they leave them both £mm’s in the red.
The top job at the BBC, Director General, is a little more secure as there’s no requirement to make a profit, more, to spend the license payer’s money wisely, and the greatest thing they fear is criticism, which current DG Mark Thompson has received a lot of recently, some of it Royally. But it’s hard to get fired at the BBC, it’s an institution, apocryphally they used to say the only grounds were not having a TV license and something I cant talk about on the premises. At an institution you do the honourable thing, as ex-BBC One Controller, Peter Fincham, did over Queengate and went swiftly to become Director Of Television at ITV.
But as we the industry insiders discuss and report on the day-to-day developments of such shufflings, do we the viewers really notice any difference? Possibly only if Coronation Street gained or lost an episode. As they used to say, ‘no matter who you vote for, the government always gets in’.
Interestingly, before Andy Duncan’s stint at Channel Four, was Mark Thompson and his presence was certainly noticed. Brookside was crushed into a single Saturday night omnibus, and he brought us The Osbornes, The Book Group and the sensationalist, Autopsy Live. Ironically, a common occurrence in the TV business.
Duncan’s contribution over his five year tenure – on the good side, More4, 4Music, Channel 4+1 expanding Film4 and E4 and bringing them all to Freeview, and 4oD online. On the bad sad – facing the flack from Shilpa Shetty’s BB controversy. To be fair, when he joined he already saw a potential £100m funding hole on the horizon and looked at various means of filling it including asking for a share of BBC funding, but sadly…
Michael Grade has always been the most visible of TV Execs, red braces, red socks, big cigar. The Harvey Weinstein of Brit TV, though nicer. Nephew of impresario Lew Grade and theatrical agent Bernard Delfont, he was never going to work in menswear. Grade has been around, London Weekend, two stints at the BBC, one at Channel Four now ITV since 2007. Biggest contributions – restructuring the once independent, regional channels under the ITV brand and building-up ITV2,3 and 4. On his arrival, he was determined to improve drama output, but soon discovered the drop in advertising wouldn’t support this most expensive programming and ended up cutting The Royal, Heartbeat and Wire In The Blood. Grade always blamed the lack of advertising and stifling regulations for the company’s dive into debt, but the soon to be introduced product placement, may well turn around the company’s fortunes, but sadly, he won’t be around to take advantage of it.
So who will be next? For a long time the ITV job was tipped to go to the sinister looking, ex-CEO of BSkyB, Tony Ball. Senior execs. were concerned about Ball’s appointment and urged the board to look further, not least because it’s said that he would have sold-off ITV Productions, producer of Corrie. Ball was at BSkyB for four years since 1999 and while there, increased viewers to almost seven million and revenue, doubling to £3.19bn. It may be this tough business background that was worrying the execs, or the fact that he takes conference calls sitting on his Ducati 966! But he came at a price, a deal which at £30m over five years, ITV at lunchtime today, announced was just too high. They wanted him, but not at this price, the spotlight was expected to swung over to Director Of Television….Peter Fincham.
Fincham, who brought us Britain’s Got Talent, was never a contender and was thought likely to leave ITV if Ball got the job, but during the failing negotiations with Ball, suddenly became the stand-by candidate. Cheaper than Ball but thought to be less business savvy.
But with today’s announcement from ITV comes the news that they’re seriously considering outside candidates.
However, front runner for the Channel Four job at, 13-8 on is….Peter Fincham. Oh, to be so popular. He heads a list of ten other prospects including Jana Bennett, at number 7, currently head of BBC Vision, who came a close second when Andy Duncan got the job. Interestingly, if Ball doesn’t go to ITV, he’s also thought to be a candidate for Channel Four, albeit an outsider.
But will we notice any difference on our screens? If Ball gets another job in British brodcasting, probably, wherever Fincham goes, probably not. So long as Corrie is safe, we can relax.