Stephen Glover: How did ITV possibly become one sixth of the size of BSkyB?

Much ink has been split recently over the future of Channel 4. Should it stay the same, or merge with channel Five, or be folded into BBC Worldwide? There is, in fact, a much bigger question which has scarcely been addressed. It concerns ITV. Does it have a future?

The broadcaster will unveil its results in two weeks' time but we do not have to wait to know that it is in some financial difficulty. A couple of weeks ago its chief operating officer sent an email to staff informing them that the advertising downturn was likely to put ITV under "severe strain". Its commercial boss said last week: "We are scrapping for our lives at the moment. We need every source of possible revenue – I don't care how small it is, we need it."

The Times has recently suggested that the broadcaster is considering selling some or all of its 40 per cent stake in ITN, which would raise some pin money.

We are talking about ITV, our national commercial broadcaster, not some hole-in-the-wall operator. Last month the credit rating agency Standard and Poor noted that the company's gearing is high, and graded it as a sub-investment "BB+". According to one City analyst, ITV's problems have been worsened by the deterioration of its pension fund, and the company has pledged to make up a shortfall out of diminishing profits.

ITV's position has weakened as television advertising, which supplies about 70 per cent of its revenues, has fallen by some 20 per cent year on year. But it would be idle to blame the company's problems entirely on the advertising recession. The 2004 creation of ITV as a single company out of its remaining constituent parts has failed. It has failed for investors – the share price has declined from a high of over 148p in 2004 to 29p last Friday. It has also failed for viewers, for whom the new mammoth company was supposed to offer superior programming. It hasn't.

One can easily become a bore invoking a golden age of television, but no one could plausibly deny that the quality of ITV's output has declined since the broadcaster was a collection of proud independent companies such as Granada, London Weekend, Yorkshire and Anglia. Where are the documentaries and the quality dramas now? Those who opposed the absorption of Granada into ITV were right. The creation of a super company was driven by the money men, and creativity took second place.

The irony is that ITV is not a super company at all. It is a tiny broadcaster slowly slipping off the radar. Last Friday it was worth about £1.3bn, whereas BSkyB, created only 20 years ago, was capitalised at £8.35bn. Over six times bigger! Isn't that a terrible indictment of the financially-driven men, led by Charles Allen, who created the behemoth of ITV? Admittedly the company has had to face challenges from an increasingly ubiquitous BBC, protected in these hard times by the guaranteed income of its licence fee, but with a few exceptions it has not fought back with better programmes.

Though he can hardly blamed for what has happened, the improvements Michael Grade promised when he took over as chairman of ITV two years ago have not materialised. He is fighting a rearguard action, and it is difficult to see how he can turn things around even if advertising recovers. After the digital switchover in 2012, ITV will be just another broadcaster competing on equal terms with scores of others. Something may survive, but the great days of ITV are over.

A free press protects us against an excess of lobsters

Last week I wrote about the Media Standards Trust, which had criticised newspapers for being inaccurate, and found precious few virtues in our press.

Here's another point. In Zimbabwe, where thousands of people are dying of cholera and malnutrition as a consequence of governmental abuse of power, President Robert Mugabe's mates are planning an 85th birthday bash for the old monster.

According to The Times, they want 2,000 bottles of champagne, 8,000 lobsters and 4,000 portions of caviar. This is moral depravity on a grand scale, and it could only happen in a country without a free press.

In Britain, several bankers were grilled last week. They have been living in a moral bubble, paying themselves vast amounts while they ruin their banks, and not desisting even when they are bailed out with taxpayers' money. Belatedly, though, some are getting the point – not as a result of being examined by MPs, or because of anything the Government has said, but because the media has acted as a channel for public revulsion.

Would the Media Standards Trust regard that as a virtue?

He may like to Twitter, but don't believe Boris is a twit

The brilliance of Boris Johnson is that he has convinced us he is unlike other politicians. Whereas normal ones exhort us to trust them, Boris invites us to love him, not despite his warts and all, but including them.

A good example last week was his "Twittering" – sending out mini blog messages for general consumption on the fast growing social networking website Twitter – after he was reprimanded for riding his bicycle in City Hall. He tried, as he has before, to turn a minor infraction to his advantage. The intended effect of this Twitter was to show that even though he is Mayor of London he is subject to the same rules as the rest of us, and not like normal pompous politicians who try to bend them in their favour.

One such man is the oleaginous Keith Vaz, chairman of the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee. It was during a short telephone conversation with Mr Vaz that Boris allegedly used the F-word 10 times. I must say that this surprises me because during many private exchanges with Boris over the years he has hardly ever sworn, and, if ever at odds, has shown himself to be well-mannered almost to the point of weakness.

Power, though, must change him, as it changes everyone. For all his attempts to convey the impression that he plays outside the normal conventions of politics, his tirade against Mr Vaz shows that he often operates within them. He can be as foul-mouthed as any Tammany Hall politician.

Don't treat Boris as a clown – not only because he isn't one but because it is dangerous to exempt any powerful politician from our usual standards of judgment. Speaking of which, Boris may find that a London Evening Standard owned by Alexander Lebedev is less starry-eyed about him than it was under its previous ownership. We should look through the act, and judge the politician.

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?