Conor Dignam On Broadcasting

'Love Island' is sinking fast, but will Charles Allen go down with it?

Last week's news that Ofcom's chief executive Stephen Carter would be stepping down earlier than planned caused a buzz around the industry. Not just because Carter was leaving at the end of this week - rather than in October as originally planned - but because his name has been widely mentioned as a possible replacement for the ITV chief executive Charles Allen.

Whether he's headed for ITV or not, Carter's early exit added to the hum of speculation about Allen's future. Even senior figures in ITV's own offices in Gray's Inn Road are privately talking about the need for change at the very top - and suggesting Allen's time is finally up.

Of course, we've been here before - many times. More newsprint has been used up speculating about Allen's "imminent" departure than is good for the environment. And if there's one thing we know about him, it's that he has a talent for survival.

As chief executive of Granada he survived the collapse of ITV Digital, the pay-TV joint venture with Carlton that burned up £1bm of shareholders' cash. He then survived the blood-letting after the merger of Carlton and Granada, when some investors demanded a change in ITV's management. Instead, it was Carlton chairman Michael Green whose head rolled.

More recently, Allen used up another life when the former BBC chief Greg Dyke led a consortium including Apax and Goldman Sachs that tried to take control of ITV, but whose bid was rejected as too low. Allen's response was to launch yet another charm offensive with investors, a £100m savings drive at ITV and plans to return £500m to shareholders this year.

For the City, this looks like too little too late and another sign that ITV under Allen lacks confidence in its own ambitions to deliver growth and instead has fallen back on cutting costs further - including in programming.

The broadcaster's share price has now dropped below £1 compared to the 130p it reached during Dyke's failed bid. Last week, it was hovering around the 95p mark, a depressing verdict on ITV's management.

Today, Allen's position looks weaker than at any time since he took the reins at the newly created ITV - and the bad news keeps coming. The summer has been horrible for ITV. Despite delivering big World Cup audiences, advertisers have decided to stay away from ITV1's schedules. June's ad market was down by 3 per cent, and ITV's advertising revenues for July are expected to fall below £100m for the first time since 1994.

And then along came Love Island. If you've not seen it (and the viewing figures suggest you haven't), it's a reality show with young men and women on an island in Fiji who are expected to snog or fight - or both. This is a second run for the show, which last year was called Celebrity Love Island and featured the likes of Abi Titmuss, Rebecca Loos and Lee Sharpe (who could at least claim to be C-list celebs).

This year's show lacks the "celebrity" prefix and viewers don't know - or seem to care - about its characters. Love Island's ratings have so far been a disappointment, but they have the potential to be disastrous. One night last week, the 10pm ITV1 airing was beaten into fifth place behind BBC1, BBC2, Channel 4 and Five with an audience of 2.2 million - 11 per cent of viewers.

Love Island is failing to deliver the numbers - and it still has five weeks to run smack in the heart of ITV's peak-time schedule. It could sink further -and possibly pull Allen down with it.

Of course, responsibility for the show really rests with ITV's director of television Simon Shaps and his teams. But it's the kind of ratings disaster ITV1 and Allen simply cannot afford. In many respects, it symbolises one of Allen's big failings as ITV leader - to instil a creative energy and confidence in the company.

Despite all this, though, Allen's achievements at ITV should not be overlooked. He has delivered savings from the merger of Carlton and Granada to the tune of £120m. He's developed a clear, coherent digital channel strategy that, with ITV2, ITV3, and ITV4, makes sense to audiences, advertisers and investors.

And he's wrung significant concessions out of Ofcom when it comes to the amount ITV pays for its broadcasting licence, with the annual costs last year cut in half, saving the business £135m a year. So when it comes to making savings and winning regulatory concessions, Allen has more than delivered.

But much more is required from the leader of ITV than just cutting costs. ITV desperately needs leadership that will inspire and energise the broadcaster and give it back some of the confidence that has drained away.

Few believe Allen is the man to do that. Perhaps strangely for a man regarded as something of an "outsider" in the TV industry, Allen has been asked to deliver the MacTaggart lecture at next month's Edinburgh TV Festival. It's an honour, but many now feel it may turn out to be a farewell speech. Of course, Allen might still be around in six or 12 months, or longer. But somehow I doubt it. This time, it really does look like the great survivor has run out of time.

Why British TV will never make a blockbuster like 'Lost'

One of the perennial questions for British TV drama is why we can't do US-style blockbusters like Lost or Desperate Housewives. These multi-episode TV events dominate the American schedules. In comparison, even the most ambitious British projects are much smaller. Robin Hood, a BBC1 autumn showpiece, is 13 45-minute episodes. And that's a long run; BBC1's acclaimed Life on Mars lasted just eight episodes.

British TV executives would love to be able to do long runs for hit shows. The BBC's drama chief, Jane Tranter, told Broadcast last year that her dream was for BBC1 drama to pull away from what anyone else could do in scale and ambition.

But it will never happen, for reasons of money and culture. The US TV industry is a huge beast that can pump millions into pilots for series that may never be made. The Lost pilot cost $9m. British broadcasters will never have cash like that.

But possibly more important is the cultural history of British TV. For many writers, directors and actors, there is a snobbery in British TV drama that means the one-off TV drama is more prestigious and attractive than a series.

Actors can be reluctant to lock themselves into a long run. Christopher Eccleston quit as Doctor Who after just one series. And writers can sometimes see working on long-running series as being on a production line.

Things are changing, but British TV is fundamentally different in scale and approach to America. For all the industry's ambitions, it'll never compete with the likes of Lost.

Conor Dignam is the editor of Broadcast magazine

News
Russell Brand was in typically combative form during his promotional interview with Newsnight's Evan Davis
peopleReports that Brand could stand for Mayor on an 'anti-politics' ticket
News
The clocks go forward an hour at 1am on Sunday 30 March
news
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor finds himself in a forest version of London in Doctor Who episode 'In the Forest of the Night'
TVReview: Is the Doctor ever going stop frowning? Apparently not.
News
Voluminous silk drawers were worn by Queen Victoria
newsThe silk underwear is part of a growing trade in celebrity smalls
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
footballMatch report: Real fight back to ruin Argentinian's debut
News
Candidates with surnames that start with an A have an electoral advantage
newsVoters are biased towards names with letters near start of alphabet
Arts and Entertainment
Isis with Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville)
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Jay James
TVReview: Performances were stale and cheesier than a chunk of Blue Stilton left out for a month
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Head of Business Development and Analytics - TV

competitive benefits: Sauce Recruitment: Outstanding analytic expertise is req...

Head of ad sales international - Broadcast

competitive + bonus + benefits: Sauce Recruitment: Are you the king or Queen o...

Business Development Manager Content/Subscriptions

£50k + commission: Savvy Media Ltd: Great opportunity to work for a team that ...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £30000 per annum + uncapped: SThree: Do you feel like your sales role...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?