IT will be tempting to think that ITV has turned the corner when it reports interims this week, which are expected to show advertising up 20 per cent. Recovery kings Archie Norman and Adam Crozier have only just arrived, but some of their magic appears to be rubbing off.
It’s probably a coincidence. Britain has exited recession and the advertising cycle has turned with it, just as it would have done if Michael Grade were still in place. The comparatives are also particularly forgiving: 2009 was an abominable year for ad sales, which account for 75 per cent of ITV revenues, leaving it exposed to any future shocks.
In truth, ITV still has a massive structural problem: it is a free-to-air broadcaster in a world dominated by pay-TV and the internet. Although its reliance on off-the-peg hits like the X-Factor is propping up revenues for now, these shows have no future value (ITV doesn’t benefit from repeats or selling the format abroad).
Plans for a pay-TV channel aimed at men are well-intentioned, and might work if ITV thinks outside the box. By capitalising on relaxed product-placement rules, it could create a new type of content, a sort of men’s magazine in print. Still, it’s a long shot, and a pricey one that ITV might struggle to afford. It spends £1bn on content, while Sky and the BBC spend £1.7bn and £2.33bn respectively. Whether investors will agree with a large increase in content spend is unclear, but playing with premium boys isn’t cheap.