Grade to the Rescue 

1 December 2006

Whatever the impact of Michael Grade’s departure on the BBC – and there are all sorts of opinions on that from disaster to nothing at all – there can be no doubt that his move to ITV can be anything other than a chance of salvation for the beleagured commercial broadcaster.

His will be a hands-on position, unlike that of BBC Chairman, and he has made programming a priority. This is good news because not only is Grade good at that side of the business: he has also, in my view, correctly analysed the root cause of ITV’s malaise: the programmes are crap. This is what you get when you allow mere businessmen, however talented in the way of shuffling funds and papers, loose on a creative industry. (Well, actually it seems to be true elsewhere: look at what’s happened to the railways, unwisely fragmented and run by people who have no feeling for the permanent way.)

Thus I see no reason why we should not see a return of ITV’s ratings in the next year or two. And the fact is, that apart from the BBC and ITV, there is not actually very much else. These two broadcasters have been at the core of British broadcasting for half a century and they set the standards (except, of course, only one of them has been setting standards recently). We need a strong BBC and a strong ITV. We probably have a strong Corporation: assuming it continues to put quality programming first, and assuming that the discussions with the Government over the licence fee will not result in emasculating it; and assuming that Grade’s second precipitous departure from the Corporation doesn’t cause any lasting or deep damage (which it shouldn’t). Now, with any luck, we have the other side of the equation.

Today, the digital multichannel environment, the diversification of distribution methods and the perhaps inevitable collapse of a federal, regional ITV (sad though it may be for some readers) has changed the face of British broadcasting for ever. But there is still a central need for quality programming that informs, educates and, yes, entertains. Hopefully we will once again have two organisations based in the UK who are good at it.

PS: My suggestion for BBC Chairman: David Liddiment. He’s already a member of the new BBC Trust; he is an experienced, creative broadcasting chief with proven abilities; and although the role of Chairman is a little far from the day-to-day running of the Corporation, there is surely no harm in having a Real Broadcaster in the chair.

A Transdiffusion Presentation

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Richard G Elen Contact More by me