Some of ITV’s shareholders are trying to steal a march on the group’s management by finding their own replacement for the outgoing executive chairman Michael Grade.
Tony Ball, the former chief executive of BSkyB, is the latest to be linked to the top executive job at ITV, before the company has even hired the headhunters that will be mandated to find Mr Grade’s successor. Mr Ball is understood to have spoken to some of ITV’s biggest shareholders several weeks ago, a move that accelerated ITV’s announcement on 23 April that Mr Grade would switch to the parttime role of non-executive chairman at the end of the year. Mr Ball is believed to be interested in the job so long as he can secure sufficient shareholder backing. He is one of a number of candidates linked to the top job.
ITV declined to comment, but the company is understood to believe that Mr Ball himself initiated discussions with shareholders. The group plans to start a selection process this week when headhunters will be appointed.
Thecompany is also thought to be confident that there is an insufficient number of investors calling for an imposed settlement, to railroad their timetable to find a replacement for Mr Grade.
Some shareholders would like to hasten the new appointment, however, and want to see a high-profile media nametake the helm at the UK’s biggest commercial broadcaster, which counts Coronation Street and Britain’s Got Talent among its most popular shows.
They are keen to attract new funding to the group, which has suffered from a marked fall in advertising revenues since the onset of the credit crunch. Jobs and programme-making budgets at the company have been cut to help save money, while investors have also seen falls in their dividend payments.
ITV’s shares have lost more than half of their value in the last 12 months.
The move to secure Mr Ball’s services is thought to have been led by Legal & General Investment Management (LGIM), which holds a 5.2 per cent stake in ITV. LGIM declined to comment yesterday. Mr Ball has the highprofile pedigree to satisfy the shareholders that want an industry behemoth.
He currently chairs the advisory board of Kabel Deutschland, Europe’s biggest cable television operator, and made his name in the British broadcasting industry during his fouryear tenure as the boss of BSkyB. He ledBSkyB until 2003, when he was replaced by James Murdoch, Rupert’s son, and was paid as much as £10m to agree not to work for a rival broadcaster for three years, a condition that expired in mid-2006.
Kabel Deutschland has been discussed as a potential suitor for a stake in ITV, highlighting Mr Ball’s credentials as a candidate that could attract investment in the group. He is not the only person linked with replacing Michael Grade, however.
Lord Hollick, the former chief executive of United Business Media, who now works for the private equity firm, Kohlberg Kravis Roberts (KKR), is also thought to be keen on the job.
He engineered the £2.7bn leveraged buyout of the German broadcaster ProSiebenSat1 in 2007 and is understood to be scaling back his work at KKR leaving him free to compete for the top job at ITV.
Greg Dyke, the former director general of the BBC, has also been mentioned as a possible candidate to succeed Mr Grade. The appointment is considered unlikely given that Mr Grade has issued a libel writ against Mr Dyke following the latter’s criticism of the way ITV has been managed under the current regime.