ITV maps out 'content-led' growth spurt

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U.K. broadcast heavyweight ITV is sitting on a war chest of more than $400 million to ramp up its in-house program development — particularly drama — while trimming down its "outside suppliers." The push is a major part of executive chairman Michael Grade's stated aim Wednesday of doubling ITV's content business to £1.2 billion ($2.4 billion) a year by 2012.

Grade unveiled his blueprint for growth, part of a wide-ranging strategic review of the broadcaster, at a news conference here.

He said that Britain's leading commercial broadcaster is entering "a period of growth" and has assembled £200 million ($406 million) to fund U.K. and international production company acquisitions in the mold of its recent purchase of Jaffe Braunstein.

Grade's "content-led growth plan" is intended to deliver 3%-5% annual growth during the next three years and increase its online revenue to £150 million ($305 million) by decade's end.

The broadcaster's in-house creative division, ITV Prods. — to be headed by former Sky programming head Dawn Airey — will be charged with delivering the bulk of the growth.

The in-house division, which accounts for about 54% of ITV1's output, has been told in no uncertain terms to "raise its game" and contribute as much as 75% of the broadcaster's fare. The division also is being called on to deliver more hit formats like "Hell's Kitchen," which has been successfully adapted worldwide.

The unit also is expected to supply the ITV1 network with an expanded range of high-quality, 60-minute dramas aimed at the 9 p.m. weeknight slot.

"We have leaked too much value to outside suppliers," Grade said, suggesting that the network has become too reliant on commissions from the independent sector.

"ITV Prods. has got to be more sensitive to the needs of the network," he added. "It has historically gone its own way."

But Grade stressed that ITV director of television Simon Shaps will have total freedom to select commissions based on quality, regardless of whether they came from in-house or the independent production sector.

Airey, who like Shaps will report to ITV COO John Cresswell, will take up her post at the commercial broadcaster within the next few weeks.
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