Grade: ITV plan 'on track'

Chief bullish despite stock slump

ITV executive chairman Michael Grade on Thursday attempted to deliver an upbeat message about the broadcaster's prospects for 2008 despite a 33% drop in its share price during the past 12 months.

Grade, who was appointed in January, said the turnaround plan he outlined in September was "on track" and that revenue from ITV's digital channels would offset losses at its core network, ITV1.

Revenue from digital channels is expected to grow 32% to £209 million ($426.5 million).

Net advertising revenue at flagship channel ITV1 is expected to fall 4.4% for 2007, compared with a 12.4% year-over-year drop the previous 12 months. Net advertising revenue across all channels will be down 0.6% compared with a 8.4% slide in 2006.

Grade's plan includes a creative overhaul, an increase in ITV's in-house production commitments, shedding noncore assets and a program to trim internal costs.

Year-to-date, ITV said its disposals have generated £103 million ($210.2 million) and cost savings are on track to total £40 million ($81.6 million) by 2008.

"ITV is finishing 2007 strongly," Grade said in a statement to the London Stock Exchange. "Our focus for 2008 is on implementing the turnaround plan set out in September and maintaining the positive momentum in ITV1's viewing performance.

"ITV Plc. has made measurable progress during the course of 2007. Onscreen, ITV1's performance has been much improved; we have assembled a formidable senior management team; and we've seen real growth in the whole television advertising market over the second half of the year," he said.

Shares in the commercial broadcaster, which traded at £1.29 ($2.63) in March, fell £0.01 on Thursday to £0.84 ($1.71).