ITV chairman search falters again

Two contenders rule themselves out of the running

LONDON -- ITV said on Monday that two contenders to succeed Michael Grade as chairman of the country's biggest free-to-air commercial broadcaster had ruled themselves out, dealing a fresh blow to its long search for new leadership.

At the same time ITV said John Cresswell, currently chief operating officer at the group, had agreed to take on the role of interim chief executive but that he planned to leave the company once a permanent incumbent had been found.

ITV, facing the worst advertising downturn for decades, has been searching for a new chief executive since May when Grade, then executive chairman, announced he would step back from the day-to-day running of the company.

Its search for a chairman, who will select the next chief executive, began in September when Grade agreed to leave the company altogether after it failed to secure former BSkyB boss Tony Ball as chief executive.

ITV, which had said as recently as Sept. 25 that the search for a new chairman was "well advanced," said both former Channel 4 and BMI British Midland chairman Michael Bishop and former Reed Elsevier chief Crispin Davis had ruled themselves out as candidates for the position of chairman.

"The (nominations) committee has revised its shortlist accordingly and is continuing its search with all due speed," ITV said in a statement.

Cresswell, who had been seen as a contender for the post of chief executive, would leave to "seek a fresh challenge," ITV said.

Simon Fox, chief executive of HMV Group, also previously held talks about the ITV chief executive post but chose to stay at the retailer.