Cresswell: Uncertainty over top jobs not distracting anyone at ITV

Chief operating officer insists strong financial close to the year shows senior management are unaffected by vacant positions

Thursday 5 November 2009

John Cresswell, the ITV chief operating officer, has said that the strong financial close to the year forecast for the company proves that senior management has not been distracted by the ongoing uncertainty over appointing a new chairman and chief executive.

Cresswell used today's solid fourth-quarter 2009 forecast for ITV, which broke an 18-month streak of shrinking revenue by reporting that December ad income will be up at least 4%, to make the point that the frequently criticised management team had begun to turn the company around.

"The thing hopefully to take out of today is that the management team haven't been distracted [by the protracted and tumultuous search for a chairman and chief executive]," he said on a conference call with journalists. "We have been getting on and doing it and doing it well."

Cresswell also said that the encouraging performance of ITV1's schedule in the autumn was testament to the strategic decision to pull investment from drama earlier in the year and focus on ratings-winning entertainment shows such as The Cube.

"We took the decision to disinvest in the summer to keep our firepower for peak time in the autumn," he added. "You have to fish where the fish are in terms of money. We have kept investment [in entertainment] high and that has paid dividends as [audience] demand is increasing we are matching it with supply [of programmes]."

However, Cresswell reiterated that ITV had not "abandoned" drama, pointing to autumn successes such as Doc Martin, but said that entertainment shows brought in more ad revenue and that "success breeds success".

"No one should go away thinking ITV does not invest heavily in drama. Pick up your [TV] listings and take a look," he said.

He added that ITV intended to keep the level of programme investment in drama at the same level in 2010, when the broadcaster will be investing more on sports programming with the football World Cup taking place in South Africa in the summer. But the drama budget could increase again in 2011.

Cresswell also pointed out that while ITV's trading update was encouraging, December's revenue forecast was in comparison with a dire 15% decline in the same month in 2008, when the advertising recession was just taking hold.

"Certainly the market as a whole is hardening, which is good. We are not calling the bottom [of the slump] we have consistently said that as we go through the year we would see the comparisons [with last year] get easier," he said.

"Visibility is short, I hope we do [sustain our performance] but we are just starting the 2010 deal season and if certain of the big [advertising] sectors are felling confident then that is good," Cresswell added.

He said that ITV had seen strong ad revenue from companies in sectors including retail, telecoms and government, with the embattled finance sector also starting to "come back".

Cresswell is due to become interim chief executive when a new ITV chairman is appointed and Michael Grade leaves the company. However, he will leave the company when a new chief executive is hired.