Revenues and profits up but still nobody loves ITV

That’s not quite true, shareholders will be pleased that the price is up nearly 50 per cent year on year and that the company has reported an 11 per cent rise in revenues for the first nine months of 2010 (to £1.45bn), driven almost wholly by increased advertising (up 16 per cent in the third quarter). Profits for 2010 as a whole are forecast to improve from £250m to £280m, which sounds a bit modest actually.

But the company is still struggling with its online offer and ITV Studios, which makes programmes and was the core of Michael Grade’s strategy for reviving ITV is struggling. New studios boss Kevin Lygo, from Channel 4, took over in August so maybe things will improve there.

But ITV remains hugely reliant on Simon Cowell’s X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent plus its ancient diet of creaking soaps.

Programme boss Peter Fincham did produce a triumph with Downton Abbey, a BBC-style costume drama that became a mini-soap, achieving a ten million audience for its final episode, but the company needs a lot more of these to restore its reputation for drama and such programmes are hugely expensive to make.

It also now faces the issue of relations between Lygo and his immediate boss Fincham. Will they agree on ITV’s way forward or will Lygo try for edgy 4-style programming that may not suit ITV as well?

New chairman Archie Norman and even newer CEO Adam Crozier moaned to a Parliamentary committee recently that the demands of CRR, whereby advertisers can reduce their spend if audiences fall, was preventing it from providing the kind of balanced schedule they both wished for.

At the time this seemed a worryingly public snub to Cowell and co, not something ITV needs to do. But they had a point; the broadcaster is still unbalanced in terms of its output with its talent shows accounting for most of the excitement and even more of the money.

And when it hits a little local difficulty, like the botched launch of Daybreak with Adrian Chiles and Christine Bleakley, its many critics are only too happy to jump on its head.

Norman and Crozier have been lucky to take control at a time when ad revenue is bouncing back strongly from the horrors of 2009.

They need a convincing strategy to win back consistent support from viewers and advertisers but tarting up the website and trying to get rid of CRR (which it won’t be allowed to do in the short term) is not the way to do it.

It needs some good, talked-about programmes that don’t involve Cheryl Cole, or indeed Edwardian toffs. Over to you Fincham and Lygo.

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.

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