EVERYONE likes a story with a happy ending, but ITV has merely changed chapter. Now that recovery kings Archie Norman and Adam Crozier are firmly ensconced, it would be easy to read higher advertising revenues as proof the free-to-air broadcaster is on the mend.
To be sure, a 16 per cent rise in third quarter ad sales followed by an expected ten per cent lift in the final three months of the year should not be sniffed at – especially now that comparatives are getting tougher.
Finance director Ian Griffiths has repaired the firm’s balance sheet, pushing debt down to £366m at the end of September (compared to £437m at the end of June), while extending maturities and diversifying sources of funding.
Higher revenues and stronger finances have given ITV something it hasn’t had in over two years: thinking time.
And think it must, because Crozier himself warns that higher ad sales should not “disguise the significant challenges ITV faces”. Revenue from ITV Studios was down 10 per cent on 2009, proving the broadcaster is still struggling to come up with content that it can market elsewhere.
Other important metrics are also decidedly lacklustre. Its share of commercial impact (SOCI) among families fell almost one per cent on a year earlier to 39.3 per cent, while its adult SOCI was down five per cent at 26.8 per cent. The number of viewers on its iPlayer-style Net Player was down 1m, or six per cent, to 15.6m.
Taken alone, these figures hardly represent a crisis – but they do suggest that the revival in ITV’s fortunes has been almost entirely cyclical. Norman and Crozier find themselves in fortunately auspicious circumstances: it’s now time for that oft-mentioned “creative renewal”.