ITV chief warns of shrinking talent fees

Michael Grade cites falling revenue, spending cuts

LONDON -- Top British stars including "X-Factor" judge Simon Cowell and "I'm a Celebrity" hosts Ant and Dec could be in for a rude awakening when it comes time to renew their contracts.

After a week in which viewers and commentators attacked the 6 million pounds ($9.5 million) a year paid to suspended BBC presenter Jonathan Ross, ITV chief Michael Grade warned Monday that it is "inevitable" that networks will bid less for talent in the coming year.

"The talent market is softening quite a bit. Our revenues are falling, the BBC is cutting back, Channel 4 is lowering its spending -- there just isn't the money," the ITV boss said at a lunch hosted by the Broadcasting Press Guild.

Grade echoed comments made over the weekend by BBC director general Mark Thompson, who said that the BBC expects to "to secure the best entertainment talent for less than we have been able to do in the last few years."

Grade, a former controller of BBC1 and chief executive of Channel 4, said that though he does not believe that disgraced BBC stars Ross and Russell Brand are "damaged goods," he would be "worried about putting them on live" on ITV.

The two presenters caused a public and political outcry after boasting on air that Brand had had sex with actor Andrew Sachs' granddaughter, prompting condemnation from Prime Minister Gordon Brown and more than 40,000 complaints to the BBC.

The furor caused Brand to quit the BBC and resulted in the 12-week suspension of TV and radio chat show host Ross, one of the BBC's highest-paid entertainers. Radio 2 controller Leslie Douglas resigned over the matter last week.

"All talent depend -- and their longevity depends -- on the support of the British public," Grade said.
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