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If you plotted the fortunes of Michael Grade and Susan Boyle on a chart, they’d run in opposite directions. Now ITV’s executive chairman is relinquishing his role, just as the broadcaster struggles to profit from its unexpected new starmaker status. ITV (LSE: ITV) told the market Thursday morning Grade had himself recommended he step down to become non-executive chairman after “important regulatory decisions toward the end of the year”, likely Ofcom’s review of ITV’s ad pricing restrictions and Digital Britain’s review of public media funding. In his place, ITV will appoint a proper CEO.
When it appointed Michael Grade from the BBC two and a half years ago, ITV hired a cavalier swashbuckler who made his name in five-channel, linear TV’s golden age. But Grade’s “turnaround” plan hasn’t worked, its crazy target of £150 million annual online sales was postponed and then scrapped, ITV has laid off 1,600 staff and the broadcaster is ending online expansionism by trying to off-load Friends Reunited and Scoot and close ITV Local.
One thing’s clear – the video site Grade last year branded a “parasite” is the one thing pulling ITV out of its doldrums at present. Just as UK newspaper sites have found unexpected US online audiences, YouTube’s proliferation of Britain’s Got Talent clips has virtually single-handedly returned influence and must-watch status to the broadcaster, and on an international scale.
But profiting from that success isn’t simple, and still ITV is trying to turn around YouTube’s juggernaut. Online director Ben McOwen Wilson tells Times Online he wants to eschew YouTube’s standard text ad overlays in favour of preroll video ads, a format Google’s site has investigated but all but rejected: “We don