Steve Morrison - It's all in the timing for the man who found life after ITV
We're all interested in the fate of companies we used to work for. But as the chief executive of All3Media looking back on his troubled former employer, Steve Morrison is more so than most. By Raymond Snoddy
Monday 27 November 2006
Of all those connected with the sorry saga of ITV, Steve Morrison, chief executive of All3Media, the UK's largest independent producer, has definitely emerged with the biggest smile on his face.
The career of the former Granada Media Group chief executive appeared to be over in 2002 when he became the sacrificial victim to offer the City for the £1.3 billion ITV Digital debacle. If anyone was leaving, it clearly wasn't going to be his fellow-Glaswegian Charles Allen, who was then the chairman of Granada and was soon to be anointed chief executive of ITV.
Instead of disappearing, Morrison cannily linked up with two former Granada colleagues, David Liddiment and Jules Burns, to found All3Media. With the support of the private equity group Bridgepoint, the three bought the television interests of Chrysalis for £45 million and launched the most extraordinary acquisition spree to buy up huge swathes of the independent television production sector.
"At the time I wouldn't have given him a one in 10 chance of pulling this off," says one former colleague. Now with ITV in the greatest turmoil in its history, Morrison sits on top of an empire of 10 independents including Mersey Television (Hollyoaks, Grange Hill), Bentley Productions (Midsomer Murders), Assembly TV (Black Books), Cactus TV (Richard & Judy) and North One (Formula One).
As All3Media was sold in the summer to the multi-billion US venture capitalists Permira, Morrison is also very, very rich. And he is also basking in the glory of a new, acclaimed feature film Mischief Night, which was launched earlier this month by Company Pictures, yet another part of All3Media.
Nowadays nothing would tempt Morrison back to ITV - not that anybody is asking. "I think I have spent long enough in there. I'm really enjoying myself and hope we will build a bigger production business."
He is believed to have earned between £10 million and £15 million from the Permira deal. When Permira sells or goes for a stockmarket float within the next five years there will be more millions for Morrison.
Although best known for his commercial television work in more than 28 years at ITV, Morrison was also executive producer on a number of Granada feature films. Posters of My Left Foot (a double Oscar winner), The Field, and Jack and Sarah fill the wall behind his office desk.
He is once again one of the most influential figures in British television. If Morrison gloats, he does it in private. "It's all water under the bridge. They are all my friends. I want them all to succeed. They can get out of this."
Of course he has a vested interest in ITV's recovery. "I hope the ITV board will appoint a new chief executive of stature [and] advertisers will stay and keep their investment."
The All3Media chief executive believes it is time for ITV to get rid of the CRR (contract rights renewal) scheme which allows advertisers to keep their discounts if they reduce their spending in line with falling audiences. It's a mechanism they have taken advantage of to reduce their spending on ITV by more than £200 million a year.
Television advertising is returning to growth in virtually every developed country - apart from the UK - and Morrison is convinced the CRR is a factor.
"Because the advertiser has a buying plan based on the premium price, which is the ITV price, if that part of the market goes down it tends to have a ripple effect on the other TV channels and maybe on other media."
His three-year plan would involve the abolition, or reform, of the CRR and commitments by ITV to maintain spending on programme schedules and by advertisers to continue to fund the channel properly. Naturally he also wants Channel 4 to do well - All3 Media makes Richard & Judy, Shameless and Hollyoaks for the channel. A good licence fee settlement for the BBC wouldn't go amiss either.
Lion Television, another All3Media company, has won the BBC commission to make a second series of Castaway, this time set on a remote island off the New Zealand coast. It will run on BBC One and BBC Three for nearly three months.
All3 has the ability to do almost anything it chooses in the independent sector. Ron Jones, executive chairman of Tinopolis, owners of independents such as Mentorn, sees All3Media as " an elephant in the living room. It could buy all the independents on the public market. At the corporate end the market is potentially out of everyone's control."
Morrison is dismissive of the notion that a bid for anything is imminent and deflects the question by saying that they always have a look at potential targets, just in case.
Morrison is optimistic about the future of television despite the arrival of potential new rivals for attention and advertising revenue such as YouTube. This he sees as "a very progressive development" and that the professional media should find a way of turning user-generated content into a latter-day version of You've Been Framed.
The company is already involved in new media outlets such as making "mobisodes" of Hollyoaks for mobile phones and broadband. There will be a bigger move into multi-media "when it becomes real" and increasingly involvement in worldwide advertiser-sponsored programming.
"If you add up these areas..." Morrison does not feel the need to add any words. He just ends the sentence with another smile of the sort you don't see in ITV these days.
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