ITV Could Benefit From Hiring Jeremy Clarkson, Analysts Say

Jeremy Clarkson - H 2015
AP Images

Jeremy Clarkson - H 2015

With the BBC not renewing the 'Top Gear' host's contract, one analyst calls him a "godsend for an ITV striving to build out international syndication?."

With the BBC on Wednesday announcing that it wouldn't renew the contract of Top Gear host Jeremy Clarkson after an investigation of a "fracas" with a producer, the discussion has started to shift to the next career move for the British TV personality.

Observers said Wednesday that, in particular, U.K. TV giant ITV, which has been mentioned as a possible new employer, could benefit from hiring Clarkson.

An ITV spokesman declined to comment on Clarkson, but sources said there have been no conversations between the two sides so far. Sky, broadcaster Channel 4, Netflix and other TV companies have also been mentioned as possible next stops for Clarkson, but ITV's broad reach would make it particularly appealing for the host, observers said.

Analysts expect talks between Clarkson and possible new network homes to kick off once his contract with the BBC formally expires. Financial and industry analysts focused much attention Wednesday on ITV as a key player in any race to sign Clarkson, should it wish to do so.

"He is an iconic figure in the U.K. and internationally," said Jefferies & Co. analyst David Reynolds about Clarkson in a reference to Top Gear's worldwide audience. He said that an ITV deal for Clarkson would make "huge sense," adding: "What a godsend for an ITV striving to build out international syndication‎."

Liberum Capital analyst Ian Whittaker in a report Wednesday cited "several potential benefits for ITV" if the host joined it. While ITV is unlikely to be able to use the Top Gear brand, as the BBC plans to continue the show and previously bought out Clarkson's stake in its production company, the analyst said: "A Top Gear-style show could help in three ways for ITV: audience share with such a popular program (and with the added benefit of hitting the BBC's audience share); advertising — given the Top Gear demographic, it is likely to be relatively attractive to advertisers; and worldwide sales."

Top Gear brought in an estimated $75 million (£50 million) for BBC Worldwide in the most recent fiscal year. "A Clarkson-fronted motor show is likely to replicate this," Whittaker predicted. All in all, the analyst continues to call ITV its top media stock pick and reiterated his "buy" rating on the stock.

Nick Thomas, practice leader of digital media at U.K.-based analysts Ovum, pointed out that there are also past examples of BBC personalities switching over to the commercial rival. "ITV has a history of picking up the BBC’s top onscreen talent," he told The Hollywood Reporter, but emphasized that the results have been "mixed."

Beyond BBC talent that ITV hired away with big paychecks in the 1980s when their appeal was already on the wane, Thomas mentioned a more recent example. Talk show host Jonathan Ross "left the BBC under a cloud, and [his] career at ITV has never really matched his success at the public broadcaster," he said.

He added: "The BBC can rightly claim that stars such as Jeremy Clarkson benefit massively from the exposure the broadcaster gives them, and that without that exposure, even the biggest BBC stars tend to struggle elsewhere (although other broadcasters have not historically been shy to pay such talent big fees, despite this)."

Who will go after Clarkson? "There will be no shortage of takers for Clarkson’s signature, but does he have a big audience beyond the Top Gear format?" Thomas said. "For ITV or other big players, the big question will be whether to offer Clarkson formats that suit his talents. "He’s popular as a host on BBC One’s Have I Got News for You and did some well-received history documentaries, but no-one is clamoring for his short-lived [talk] show to be revived, for example," Thomas said.

The analyst concluded: "The opportunity for ITV is to buy access to a genuine TV star with a loyal audience, but the risk is that his popularity is linked to the Top Gear format."