ITV refugee Desmond resurfaces as adviser to Chinese television group

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The Independent Online

Seven months on from his surprise news that he was leaving ITV, Mick Desmond, the former chief executive of ITV Broadcasting, is back helping a Chinese television group eyeing the British market.

Mr Desmond has accepted an international advisory role with the Hunan Broadcasting Company, the state-owned channel which broadcasts to around 5.62 billion viewers by satellite.

"The opportunity really came out of left field, following a presentation I made to HBC about British broadcasting when they visited the UK," said Mr Desmond, who has been selective about the projects he has accepted since leaving ITV last September. "It's an exciting time to be working with the Chinese. Their appetite to learn is insatiable and there's a huge amount of investment pouring into China from the international markets."

Mr Desmond will help HBC, which claims to be a market leader in China in entertainment and information, across a number of fronts. This includes identifying trends in British production; new programming formats and interactive propositions, and how best to capitalise on advertising. He is ideally qualified, having covered most jobs in broadcasting and sales during his 25-year career in British television.

According to Mr Desmond, the Chinese perceive the UK, in contrast to the US, to be regulated in a similar fashion to their domestic market. "They attribute the evolution of quality programming in the UK to robust regulation. Because they have clear guidelines in China on both the tone and type of broadcasting, they feel an affinity towards the UK."

It is difficult for Western firms to invest in Chinese enterprises, but Mr Desmond said that HBC was keen to develop relationships with overseas companies, and joint ventures might be possible.

"The Chinese see the UK and US as two principal markets of creativity and quality production, markets in which they can learn, especially if they invest," he said. "They also recognise that in their domestic market, advertising revenue opportunities are immense for both indigenous broadcasters and global advertising agencies, such as WPP, Omnicom and Publicis. This is the region where the latter will grow their worldwide revenues in the next decade."

Commercial opportunities would seem to be abundant if forecasts of growth of 7-8 per cent per annum are correct. Mr Desmond believes British companies can learn much from Chinese counterparts. "The Chinese can-do attitude is very entrepreneurial. They don't see problems, only opportunities; and when they decide to do something, they don't hang about, they act."

Mr Desmond spent two and a half decades in commercial TV, largely on the sales side, before being forced out of ITV by Charles Allen, in a move that was a shock to many in the industry. He does not want to talk about his departure, and paints a more optimistic picture about the British television environment than many do.

"While the days of double-digit growth are gone, we're now dealing with a mature market where the power of the brand will dominate. Winners will be those that can evolve in new media and protect their traditional patches at the same time. Advertising spend is still there, it's just taking on a new shape."