David Prosser: ITV loses face over loss

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The Independent Online

Outlook Poor old ITV, down a mere £150m on its investment less than four years ago in Friends Reunited. To give Charles Allen and his colleagues their due, ITV's management back then correctly picked social networking as the internet phenomenon of the moment.

What ITV couldn't work out, however, was how to ensure their shiny new toy surfed the social networking wave. And the mistakes were pretty basic. This wasn't a case of fuddy-duddy middle-aged executives not getting the internet, but something much more fundamental: Friends Reunited cost more than its rivals – infinitely more, in fact, since Facebook and co are free – and wasn't as good, lacking most of the functionality the successful social networking sites deliver.

In fact, ITV tried to be too clever. It bought Friends Reunited with ambitious ideas about cross-media initiatives such as TV shows built off the back of the site. Surprise, surprise, as one ITV star might say, none of them ever came to fruition.

This misadventure will be written up in business textbooks as another embarrassing example of those who should know better wasting money on trying to get down with the kids. But that's not it at all – ITV's failure with Friends Reunited was good old-fashioned business incompetence.