'Monsters' lurk, Grade warns U.K. b'casters


British broadcasting is under threat from "unregulated competition" from online "monsters" such as Google that continue to invest in British-made programming, ITV chairman and CEO Michael Grade said.

The power of online giants like Google should be taken into consideration by British regulator Ofcom as it begins its review of public-service broadcasting in the U.K. and, in particular, when it thinks about the public-service commitments it should mandate for broadcasters, Grade said at this weekend's Royal Television Society conference.

"We are challenged on a number of fronts," Grade told delegates. "We are challenged on advertising and on unregulated competition from people like Google, who are out to eat our lunch, make no mistake about it."

Grade, who set out a strategy for ITV last week that was given a lukewarm welcome by investors and raised eyebrows in the production community, is keen that ITV be given the room to maneuver by regulators in what has become an increasingly complex and competitive market for commercial television.

"I need to have a regulatory regime that is liberal enough to allow me to move the money around so that I can keep the shareholders' interests and the public's interest aligned," said Grade, who said that what is "out for ITV" is "any kind of genre prescription" from a regulator.

However, Grade claimed that, in a post-analog TV world, ITV is "exactly on the same page" as Ofcom in wanting to preserve "plurality in public service broadcasting" so that it is not just the BBC providing public-service broadcasting in the digital age.

"I believe my shareholders' interests and the public's interests are absolutely aligned in terms of investment in British programming, including national news," he said.

However, there was a certain amount of skepticism in the audience about Grade's commitment to news, particularly regional U.K. news, in the wake of ITV's announcement last week of its plan to cut its regional news bureaus from 17 to nine.