ITV offer too good to turn down, says Grade

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New ITV executive chairman Michael Grade today described his shock defection from the BBC as an offer too good to turn down.

Mr Grade's appointment has been dubbed a coup by management at ITV, which has been hunting a new chief executive since the resignation of Charles Allen in August following a dip in advertising revenues and audience figures.

The BBC said today it was "disappointed" by the departure of its chairman, although Mr Grade insisted in an email to staff that his decision had been motivated by a desire to get involved with programming again, rather than "governing from a distance".

He said: "I am off to a new challenge, maybe at 63 my last real job, and hopefully give you a run for your money. That's how it should be."

Mr Grade also stressed the move had not been sparked by a reaction to anything "internal or external" at the BBC.

He will succeed current chairman Sir Peter Burt early next year and is expected to remain in the role for up to three years. During the period, ITV said it will appoint a new chief executive, with Mr Grade stepping back from day-to-day management to become non-executive chairman.

In August the broadcaster announced turnover at ITV1 - which accounts for about 90% of the company's total advertising revenues - had fallen 8% to £654 million in the first six months of the year.

Despite boasting flagship programmes, from Coronation Street to Champions League football, it has suffered a number of big flops including Saturday entertainment show It's Now Or Never.

But Mr Grade said: "ITV is one of the great British media brands, up there with some of the other great brands in the UK. It's had a difficult time, but the chances of turning round are very high. I'm delighted to have this offer."

ITV said Mr Grade will be paid an an annual salary of £825,000, compared with his total package of £110,000 from the BBC last year. The terms also include a long-term share incentive scheme based on the broadcaster's performance over the next five years. He could earn another 150% of his salary.

Mr Grade, whose previous positions included running BBC1, returned to the corporation in April 2004 following the departure of chairman Gavyn Davies in the wake of criticism in the Hutton Report earlier that year.

Sir Peter said: "Michael Grade's appointment will provide a strong and focused leadership at a critical time in ITV's history. The company will benefit enormously from his unrivalled broadcasting experience. I regard it as a real coup to have persuaded Michael to join us."

The move took the City by surprise. It had been busy speculating about who would take on the difficult role of chief executive at ITV - Mr Grade had not even been factored in as a potential management target.

Alex DeGroote, an analyst at Panmure Gordon stockbrokers, said: "Grade is very well-known and has a strong broadcasting CV at the BBC, LWT and Channel 4. Given the management vacuum at ITV, this should be taken well by the market.

"Grade may well, in due course, sharpen up the ITV programming output, which may help audience share. He is also very au fait with the onerous regulatory constraints on ITV. All this is, of course, positive."