Grade berates 'lackluster' ITV for profits slump

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LONDON -- Just two months into the job, ITV executive chairman Michael Grade on Wednesday delivered a scathing attack on the broadcaster's legacy of "lackluster" and "creatively bankrupt" programming as the network unveiled a 19% drop in pretax profits to £364 million ($702.8 million).

Revenue was down 1% to £2.2 billion ($4.2 billion) as advertising revenue from core network ITV1 fell 12% to £1.3 billion ($2.5 billion). Net profit was down 2% at £222 million ($428.6 million), while earnings before interest, tax and amortization fell 18% to £375 million ($724 million).

Grade said that ITV commissioners are guilty of too many copycat formats and need to re-create the network's role as the pre-eminent home of 9 p.m. drama. But he was quick to praise the network's revamped creative team, lead by director of television Simon Shaps, and said that he was "much encouraged" by program ideas for 2008 as well as an uplift in performance since the fall.

"It has been clear for some time that the performance of ITV1 has been lackluster to say the least and that we were shedding viewers at an alarming rate," he told reporters at a news conference. "The rate of decline was so strong that you had to conclude that there was something intrinsically wrong with the programs."

Grade was particularly critical of a failure to innovate in the entertainment genres.

"We have been very quick to copy other people's formats," he said. "We've stuck the word celebrity on the front of a copied format and pretended that's good enough."

"It's creatively bankrupt, to be honest, and we have got to wean ourselves off the habit," he added.

In the past 12 months, ITV has aired a slew of programs like the genealogy show "You Don't Know You are Born," widely seen as a veiled copy of the hit BBC format "Who Do You Think You Are?"

Shaps has spent much of the past 12 months rewiring the broadcaster's commissioning lineup and hiring new talent to ITV's executive ranks.

"I have spent a lot of time with Simon and his team, and there's a great focus on 2008 as well as some short-term wins in 2007. Every genre has a different lead time," Grade said.

ITV said that ad revenue for January-March will fall 4.5% and that ITV1 sales will continue to decline in 2007.
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