Bishop leaves ITV's search for a chairman in disarray

Chief operating officer to become temporary CEO, then leave when job is taken
  • @MrNickClark

ITV's search to fill the two most senior roles at the company took a fresh twist yesterday as it appointed a temporary chief executive but a second front-runner in a week ruled himself out as a candidate for chairman.

The broadcaster, which pulled in over 14 million viewers for The X Factor on Sunday, issued a statement updating the market on its search for a new chairman and a chief executive to replace Michael Grade. Speculation over the candidates for both roles has reached fever pitch in the wake of the collapse of talks between ITV and its preferred chief executive candidate, Tony Ball.

A series of heavy hitters have been linked with the chairman's role. Sir Crispin Davies, the front-runner and former chief executive of Reed Elsevier, ruled himself out last week. Sir Michael Bishop, founder of the airline bmi, has since followed.

ITV said yesterday that Sir Crispin and Sir Michael "both recently confirmed to the nominations committee of the board they are not candidates".

The committee has "revised its shortlist accordingly", ITV said, "and is continuing its search with all due speed". Others linked include Sir Christopher Bland, former chairman of BT, GlaxoSmithKline's chairman, Sir Christopher Gent, and Martin Broughton, chairman of British Airways.

The group has appointed John Cresswell, chief operating officer, as interim chief executive "to lead the company through the appointment and arrival of the next chief executive". His role will not start until the appointment of the new chairman.

After ITV failed to agree terms with Tony Ball, Mr Cresswell was among the favourites to take the job full time. Yet the broadcaster announced yesterday that after a full-time chief executive is found, he "then plans to leave to seek a fresh challenge".

Claire Enders, the founder of Enders Analysis, said: "There is a lot of sadness around John's decision to go. There is now a lot of talk that Peter Fincham will be the compromise candidate."

The joint search has led to question-marks over the handling of the situation by the ITV board, with talk that its composition could face a shareholder vote at an extraordinary meeting. "This is a very difficult, unusual and groundbreaking situation for a public company to find itself in," Ms Enders said.

ITV's shares rose more than 6 per cent yesterday after Goldman Sachs said that advertising trends in the UK television market are showing "signs of improvement" in the second half of the year. The shares were bolstered on talk that it could become an acquisition target. "In the medium term we continue to see plausible acquisition interest from RTL/Bertelsmann, which previously indicated interest in ITV to replace its Five channel which continues to lose audience share in the UK market," Goldman's analysts said.

The brokers noted that the "key downside risks" included a weaker than expected ad market and cost savings, and investments by a new chief executive, and added that the spectre of a rights issue is still in the background.