Charles Allen: A walk with the dog before the final episode in a long-running soap opera

A day in the life of the Chief executive of ITV
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The Independent Online

6.30am

It is Tuesday, the day the world will officially be told that Charles Allen has resigned as chief executive of ITV. Mr Allen, 49, wakes at his usual time, which gives him a chance to walk the dog for half an hour.

The previous day, an ITV board meeting agreed the terms of Mr Allen's departure, which has been an open secret for weeks. He will give up being chief executive at the end of September, and become an adviser to the company until January.

"I took the view some time ago that I wanted to go off and do something else. I'd rather do it aged 50 than 55. The issue is how we manage that process."

Mr Allen has been chief executive or chairman of ITV or its predecessor Granada for 10 years, having joined Granada 15 years ago. Despite the impression that he has faced constant criticism, he describes his time at ITV as a "ball" and does not believe that there has been anything personal in the reams of negative publicity that he has had heaped on him in the press.

"It's an amazing level of profile but it's not me. It's the job. Anybody would get that level of profile ... In this job, you're there to take the bullets. If things don't go well from a creative perspective, you take the bullet. If you let those bullets hit the team, you will make them feel less confident about creating new shows."

Under Mr Allen, almost all the regional franchises were brought together under one company, ITV plc, in January 2004.

At 7.30am, Mr Allen leaves his home in Kensington, west London, for the ITV offices on Grays Inn Road, on the edge of the City. His is driven by his chauffeur. He reads the papers - it feels like his departure "has had more coverage than the Middle East crisis" - and catches up with e-mails. Arrives 8am.

9am

Mr Allen brings senior management together for a regular weekly meeting, just as the announcement about his departure goes out. He tells colleagues that the "board and myself have agreed a process in terms of a handover. A new chief exec coming in would give them time to deliver on their strategy." He also explains to them what's going to be in the half-year interim results, which will be released the following day.

"People [in the room] were incredibly generous. They said some very nice things. I was very touched. Obviously I had put all of them in their jobs in the last 12 to 14 months."

10.30am

Returns a long list of calls from journalists. Mr Allen also gives an interview to Alastair Stewart, for ITV News, about his resignation. The interview is then syndicated to other broadcasters.

Inevitably, he is asked about what he thinks were his successes and things that did not go so well. On this latter point, rather than anything very recent, he takes a longer-term view.

"One of my biggest frustrations was the time it took to consolidate ITV. It took two acts of parliament, and three regulatory reviews. And I think that was unhelpful. Could I have done more if that regulatory process had been speeded up? It took 12 years. The world was changing dramatically. ITV would be in much better shape if it were a single ITV six years ago. But every single move was a battle. A quicker consolidation of ITV would have put us in a better position now."

The nadir was in 1999 with the news that United and Carlton, two of the three big ITV companies, had agreed a merger. "I thought it was my darkest days, I thought gosh they've got the consolidation and we've lost out." The merger was later blocked - allowing Mr Allen's Granada to buy United and then Carlton.

12pm

Meets with John Whiston, who runs ITV's programme production business, then with Alison Sharman, the director of factual and daytime programming. Each meeting lasts about an hour and a quarter.

ITV's poor on-screen performance has been one of the main brickbats thrown at Mr Allen. He insists that most of the decline we have seen at the company's main ITV1 channel has come from structural change in the market. He says that he meets regularly with all the creative controllers "to discuss the priorities they've got and what they're doing".

He presses on with these routine meetings despite the dramatic news on his departure. "The key message from the morning meets was that it was back to business as usual."

ITV is being watched closely by private equity bidders, some of whom plan to make money by selling off the company huge programme production business.

Mr Allen is scathing about the idea. "At a time when content is increasingly becoming valuable, why would you exit the business that's got the most value. You damage your core broadcasting business. Somebody buys ITV production - which makes Coronation Street, Heartbeat, Emmerdale, then what? Its on Channel 5 or on Sky."

Mr Allen brought in a new senior management team in September, with Simon Shaps appointed as director of television. Mr Shaps has subsequently made a raft of creative appointments. Some have contended that Mr Allen just left it too late to tackle ITV's programming difficulties. He refutes this: "That's absolutely wrong. You had to put in place the [ITV] merger, manage the infrastructure at network centre, as soon as we could, we put in place a new management team there, and Simon [Shaps] in less than six months brought in a whole new group of people. Could that have been done earlier? No, because until it was a single company who could not address the fact that the infrastructure was a network infrastructure. And you wouldn't have wanted to address that until you had the [broadcasting] licence renewed. We've done it in a very structured way. Make the merger work. Take out the cost savings, get the licence reduced [June 2005], put the team in place."

2.30pm

Meets with the regulatory team. There are two burning regulatory constraints that ITV is trying to have reduced. Firstly there is a mechanism known as CRR, which takes away ad revenue in proportion to any fall in audience. Secondly, there is the issue of public service broadcasting (PSB), a set amount of which ITV is obliged to show. For instance, "We have to put on children's programming in the afternoon. Our competitors put on very, very, commercial material aimed at the ITV1 audience, whether that be Deal or No Deal or things like Countdown."

He says that the review of ITV's PSB commitments may not come, under the regulator's current schedule, till 2011, which will be far too late. Currently, he points out, 30 per cent of the ITV of schedule is PSB programming, which takes up 22 per cent of budget but only delivers 11 per cent of the ratings.

4pm

Catches up with phone calls, e-mails etc with his personal assistant. Then, at 4.30pm, he leaves for the City Presentation Centre, in the Square Mile, to run through the rehearsal for the next day, when he will lay out ITV's financial performance and strategy before City analysts.

Key will be how he sees the ratings slump being tackled. He explains: "The job is to continue to build the bankers, the Coronation Streets, the Emmerdales, The Bills, etc, you have to constantly refresh them. Having put a new team in place, we must support them to take risks on new shows, like Dancing on Ice, and on big dramas."

7pm

Leaves to go home, in order to go over the results figures and other material. He takes with him a big pack of information. Mr Allen has a light supper and is in bed at 10pm as he will have to be up at 5am the following day to get to the City Presentation Centre for 6.45am. Usually he would go out for a dinner with clients, advertising agencies, political contacts, or ITV's stars ("talent").

Mr Allen says that he has not had time to plot his next career move. "After 15 years, you just want to sit back and reflect on what to do next. I know I want to have other chapters, I don't want not to do anything - learning how to play golf or spending a lot of time on the tennis court. I will want to do something that is challenging and interesting, exactly what that is, I'm not sure. I've enjoyed both business and not-for-profit type of things."

He holds a position on the London 2012 Olympics organising committee - which could become an increasingly time-consuming task - and many have suggested that, as a "Labour luvvie", he will be offered a seat in the House of Lords. Mr Allen, though, seems to want to stick more closely to what he knows best: "I want to have an on-going involvement in business. That's where my passion is and where my expertise is."

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