Raymond Snoddy on Broadcasting: Could the big fish at ITV learn a lesson or two from the minnows?

Two commercial broadcasting minnows from the Celtic fringe, SMG and UTV, have just reported financial results, and guess what? They have done much better than their old mother ship ITV plc in recessionary times.

SMG's core television business, home of Taggart these 25 years, managed flat revenues of £56m but produced a 26 per cent rise in operating profit at £4.9m. Of particular note though was the company's 14 per cent increase in regional advertiser revenue with more promised for the future.

Over in Belfast, there was an overall rise in revenue of 8 per cent in UTV's first half of the year with a fall in television advertising offset by growing success of its radio interests including TalkSport, the station created originally by Kelvin MacKenzie.

SMG and UTV are only minnows but can they, in their different ways, teach ITV a thing or two? The official line from ITV's executive chairman Michael Grade goes as follows. We have a plan, shareholders support it, but of course we have to deliver before anyone pays attention. And times are really tough, so patience please. Top-quality content is our business and, in the end, content and free-to-air television will win through.

However, as Grade stands firm, news from the media buyers is not good. ITV advertising could be down by as much as 16 per cent in October and at the very least faces two consecutive months of double-digit decline.

In the "How To Save ITV" session at the Edinburgh TV Festival, managing director Rupert Howell sang from the Grade hymn sheet: ITV didn't need saving. It was already making progress against The Plan.

An unconvinced MacKenzie told the Edinburgh audience that ITV should ditch all that regional nonsense which is just a drain on resources and simply run a wholly commercial national channel out of London. To emphasise the power of his argument the former editor of The Sun then performed a creditable Irish jig.

While ITV could strip back to the bare essentials, hand back its broadcasting licences and simply transmit a raft of digital channels on cable, satellite and digital terrestrial, it doesn't seem like a smart move.

In fact, might the emerging SMG experience suggest that the ITV should go in the opposite direction – paying more attention to its regional roots rather than trying to wriggle out of as many obligations as Ofcom will permit?

Increasingly, consumers are dipping into a wide variety of sources of entertainment and information, global as well as national. But in an uncertain world will those sophisticated media consumers also hanker after a sense of local and regional identity?

Perhaps Grade should keep an eye on what SMG chief executive Rob Woodward is getting up to in Glasgow just in case.

At UTV, television advertising has been falling but far less steeply than at ITV. In the current quarter the broadcaster expects a drop of 5 per cent but that compares with an expected decline of 13 per cent for ITV.

That adds up to partial support for the SMG regional theories but the possible UTV lesson is different. From nowhere in radio, the Belfast company now owns 20 stations in the UK and Ireland. In the first half year they produced a 31 per cent rise in operating profit with a 15 per cent rise in total revenue to more than £36m.

Small potatoes, maybe, but it goes some way towards justifying the claim by UTV chief executive John McCann that the company was right to diversify away from a purely television offering.

With the exception of Friends Reunited, ITV has little history of successful diversification away from its main UK television business – and that is why its sufferings are particularly acute at the moment.

Other helpful suggestions from Edinburgh – why not go for a transforming deal such as taking over Virgin Media? "Do you think we haven't thought of that," replied Rupert Howell.

No echo as 'Moving Wallpaper' springs back

Sometime in the spring, the excellent sitcom about television, Moving Wallpaper, will return to ITV. I'm happy to report that the best comedy about TV since the immortal Drop The Dead Donkey is already in production.

But alas it will return without its programme sidekick Echo Beach, the much maligned accompanying soap, starring Jason Donovan and Martine McCutcheon. This was a disappointing commissioning decision. The whole point of an imaginative piece of programme-making from Spooks producers Kudos was to follow the activities of the fictional soap opera production team (Moving Wallpaper) with the soap itself (Echo Beach).

Now, of course, the return of Moving Wallpaper will have to feature the axing of Echo Beach. What happens next is unclear.

The decision was presumably made because Moving Wallpaper got better ratings than the soap, as many people failed to stay for the second half-hour. But it's still a little sad that such an interesting experiment failed. Perhaps the link between the two halves was not always explicit enough?

There may also have been some confusion of purpose. The brace of programmes was originally intended for ITV 2 and a younger audience. For them Echo Beach would have played better as a more obvious spoof of a soap rather than an apparent attempt at the real thing. In the end, the audience was fatally split. Those who like sitcoms watched Moving Wallpaper but the soap fans were not satisfied by Echo Beach.

At least from the wreckage of this bold creative idea – just the sort of thing ITV should be trying – we have the wonderfully monstrous Jonathan Pope, the TV boss from hell.

Birt tastes Beeb bite

News has emerged of a revealing little contretemps at a private Ofcom dinner called to discuss the thorny issue of the future of public service broadcasting – an issue generating increasing heat.

The distinguished cast list included Lord Birt, former director general of the BBC, and Will Hutton, City analyst, former BBC journalist, distinguished author and chief executive of The Work Foundation.

You would have thought that men with their considerable experience of life at the Corporation would have seen eye-to-eye on the future of the organisation. Not so.

At the dinner Lord Birt argued strongly for one of Ofcom's favourite options – model four – the creation of a separate fund for all non-BBC public service broadcasting. It sounds like top-slicing of the BBC licence fee in all but name – something the BBC is fighting a battle against. Certainly the fund would be the repository for the portion of the licence fee the BBC will devote over the next few years to analogue switch-off. The former DG also argued that the BBC would just have to get used to the idea of a future without the licence fee.

This was all too much for Hutton, who has in the past attacked the Government for bowing to pressure from commercial broadcasters to keep the BBC "on short rations." The word "perfidy" was heard around the dinner table and Hutton accused Lord Birt of merely being a venture capitalist.

Which, of course, he is. Lord Birt is an adviser to private equity group Terra Firma, founded by City high-flyer Guy Hands. For the rest of the evening Hutton insisted on calling Birt "Guy" – behaviour which at least one of those present thought closer to abuse than reasoned argument.

What this says about Lord Birt's chances of becoming the next chairman of Ofcom is not clear. But at the very least he's sticking close to the arguments and keeping his own personal options open.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Sport
sportSo, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
Arts and Entertainment
Dennis speaks to his French teacher
tvThe Boy in the Dress, TV review
News
One father who couldn't get One Direction tickets for his daughters phoned in a fake bomb threat and served eight months in a federal prison
people... (and one very unlucky giraffe)
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
The Plaza Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia was one of the 300 US cinemas screening
filmTim Walker settles down to watch the controversial gross-out satire
Arts and Entertainment
Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz in Tim Burton's Big Eyes
film reviewThis is Tim Burton’s most intimate and subtle film for a decade
Life and Style
Mark's crab tarts are just the right size
food + drinkMark Hix cooks up some snacks that pack a punch
Arts and Entertainment
Jack O'Connell stars as Louis Zamperini in Angelina Jolie's Unbroken
film review... even if Jack O'Connell is excellent
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

Ashdown Group: Brand Marketing Manager - Essex - £45,000 + £5000 car allowance

£40000 - £45000 per annum + car allowance: Ashdown Group: Senior Brand Manager...

Guru Careers: .NET Developer /.NET Software Developer

£26 - 35k (DOE): Guru Careers: We are seeking a .NET Developer /.NET Software ...

Guru Careers: Graduate Marketing Analyst / Online Marketing Exec (SEO / PPC)

£18 - 24k (DOE): Guru Careers: A Graduate Marketing Analyst / Online Marketing...

Guru Careers: Technical Operations Manager

£Neg. (DOE) + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Technical Ope...

Day In a Page

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that? The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that?

The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year
Hollande's vanity project is on a high-speed track to the middle of nowhere

Vanity project on a high-speed track to nowhere

France’s TGV network has become mired in controversy
Sports Quiz of the Year

Sports Quiz of the Year

So, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry, his love of 'Bargain Hunt', and life as a llama farmer

Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry and his love of 'Bargain Hunt'

From Armstrong and Miller to Pointless
Sanchez helps Gunners hold on after Giroud's moment of madness

Sanchez helps Gunners hold on

Olivier Giroud's moment of madness nearly costs them
A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect