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Where's ITV's Ball?

Robert Peston | 15:58 UK time, Tuesday, 15 September 2009

This afternoon I have a television mystery for you, entitled "what is going on at ITV over the appointment of its new chief executive?"

Tony BallHere's the interesting fact: just under four weeks ago, the company sent a letter to Tony Ball, the former chief executive of BskyB, offering him the post of chief executive - subject of course to agreement being reached on the normal terms and conditions (including - ahem - pay).

Ball is keen to take the post.

He relishes the challenge of trying to restore ITV's profitability in the worst television advertising recession ever, and as digital technology transforms the company from a whale in a small pond - a de facto monopolist - into plankton in a vast ocean.

That said, the Competition Commission thinks ITV is still quite whale-like - in that the watchdog pronounced this morning that ITV must continue to be subject to price controls on what it can charge for advertising (which means that if Ball takes over, he'll have one arm tied behind his back).

Perhaps you think Ball is crackers to want to do it, since he doesn't need the money. But there you are: he thinks there's a business with decent returns lurking in there somewhere.

So on receipt of the offer letter, he instructed his lawyer to sort out the contract.

And although part of what he wanted was agreed pretty quickly, negotiations appear to have ground to a halt in the past week.

Which is not to say that there's been an impasse or disagreement, let alone a row. It's just that ITV hasn't been communicating with Ball, for days.

So is it that ITV has changed its mind and wants to rescind the offer to Ball?

That would probably be dangerous for its board, since Ball is backed by a number of big shareholders.

What's the problem?

Well I'm told that the board is worried about the quantum of wonga - or rather incentives - that Ball would like.

I'm sure these aren't small, since Ball is in a rare category of television executive: he has a record of generating profits rather than noise; he has an international reputation; and for the past few years he has worked in mega-bucks private equity.

So it's all a bit of a dilemma for ITV's board: the non-executives are understandably reluctant to pay significantly above - to use the ghastly cliché - the industry benchmark.

In the end there is surely just one question the board needs to answer? Whatever Ball is demanding, does it look reasonable in relation to potential returns for shareholders under his stewardship?

Or - which is what some think - is there something else that bothers the directors? Has the company got cold feet about Ball for another reason?

As I said at the outset, it's a bit of a mystery.


  • Comment number 1.

    Tantalising, Mr Peston.

    I reckon it is just 'cold feet' at paying 'top dollar' at a time when this is looking 'so last season'. That might immediately be seen as admitting that ITV is in a deeper hole than they've 'fessed up to in the past.

    Anyway, enough of this frivolity - tell us who is taking over at Marks and Sparks ? Perhaps you could throw your hat in the ring...

  • Comment number 2.

    CEO of ITV is a hot potato. Its profits appear to go only one way. Maybe he has cold feet.
    Who would have thought twenty years ago that so many independent television companies would contract into one lacklustre runt?
    Some info on independents on scroll to Mamma Medium is the Message 29th August

  • Comment number 3.

    "Perhaps you think Ball is crackers to want to do it, since he doesn't need the money. But there you are: he thinks there's a business with decent returns lurking in there somewhere."

    ....just another greedy man then eh Robert?

    Hasn't anyone noticed that more channels simply means more and more rubbish?
    This country's problem is it's false economies everywhere.

    Cheap is not always cheerful.

    What's the point of £1 t-shirts from Primark which only last 1 wash?

    What's the point of ITV to produce poor quality TV programs which simply imitate other channels because (as the Chinese prove) it's easier to copy than to innovate.

    I can't think of a single ITV program I would miss if it wasn't there anymore - can anyone else?

    I fear Mr Balls arrogance about his own ability might cost him dearly here.

    "He relishes the challenge of trying to restore ITV's profitability in the worst television advertising recession ever, and as digital technology transforms the company from a whale in a small pond"

    Nah - he is like a Banker Robert - get paid loads of money - win loose or draw and then off to the Bahamas.
    I'm assuming he's not on performance related pay or share retention bonus because alas this isn't banking.

    ...the hypocrisy continues...the madness goes on...

  • Comment number 4.

    ITV's share price has taken a bit of a tanking today so something is almost certainly afoot.

  • Comment number 5.

    At some point we have to face a hard truth. If you want to make millions, you get an idea, set up a business and make it big. If you want to work for someone else whether it is ITV,the County Council or the Jam factory there is a limit on what you should or can be paid. If these organisations so structure their set up that everything depends on the input of some vastly paid person at the top, who is even more vastly expensive to fire, the whole system is wrong. These companies and institutions used to have talent in depth. They need to get back to that. The Board of ITV need to be very cautions before signing up any financial big shot.

  • Comment number 6.

    I guess a lot of people will be jumping on the band wagon of yet another greedy fat cat. But I'm not one. If he is able to deliver shareholder value and is indeed more substance than noise surely the decision is relatively simple. Especially if a deal can be structured in such a way to reward the 'delivered value increases'.

    You get what you pay for and in trying times you would quite understandably need the best available.

  • Comment number 7.

    This Blog is instrumentalising the BBC Homepage to get the best deal for Mr Ball. Highly tendential.

  • Comment number 8.


    Could be a fairly rational explanation for all of this...

    We're all getting sick of those stupid adverts on ITV!

  • Comment number 9.

    If ITV is a whale, it is imitating the whale in "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy". Turning it round and making it swim will require skill determination and luck, and possibly a degree in quantum physics and that costs money. If the ITV Board, its shareholders and the Competition Commission want to keep ITV (and wasn't it all so much better when there were genuine regional programme makers) then they are going to have to pay for the privilege. Any sensible person would require a sizeable incentive to jump into that particular frying pan and further rewards of successful in making it work properly. Go for it, Mr. Ball, and get moving ITV!

  • Comment number 10.

    And this is relevant to the BBC's business editor? Why? How? The last time I checked, ITV was public company like many others listed on the FTSE. Are you going to write a blog when anyone of them looks for a new CEO? If you're that bored, why not quit the BBC and challenge James Murdoch to caged-boxing match. I'd pay to watch that! BTW, I presume you're over the nausea that you got when you read the report on the MG Rover collapse. I get nausea whenever you write a blog! Can you stop?

  • Comment number 11.

    Ball wants to cull the Board, remove Grade and his acolytes and have a genuinely new strategy. Turkeys and Christmas? This is a rear-guard, keep our jobs action with pay as an excuse. Grade already negotiated a 12 million potential pot when he came. plus ca change

  • Comment number 12.

    itv needs to adjust if it is going to survive, it needs focus and better programming.
    when itv was regional under several companies it worked well enough and viewers were happier, but not so much now the outer regions like the south west have lost so much programming aimed at them that it has affected their cultral identity.
    mr ball if he is on the ball will turn itv around and get it on the right path.
    viewers can only watch and wait.

  • Comment number 13.


    This afternoon I have a television mystery for you, entitled "what is going on at ITV over the appointment of its new chief executive?"

    It is a wonderful television mystery....I would like to take a guess on what is the situation of the New C.E.O. of ITV (United Kingdom)...

    *He is just waiting out the time to see if, the contract is going to get any better...*

    =Dennis Junior=

  • Comment number 14.

    Robert. Please shed light on the big picture today.........Gordon's cuts! This is all tickle tackle and boring mate!

  • Comment number 15.

    We blog about the lunacy of saving banks that are in liquidity difficulties, we blog about excessive director' remuneration and perks, why, oh why, is there any support for yet another failing institution in its death throws. Has ITV been such a success, if so why did it have to contract so drastically from regional programming, to centralised collapse? With the comine of digital TV, the advent of broadband access to TV the writing was clearly on the wall for any commercial broadcaster that had not cornered the populist market. With BSkyB and its sporn of repeats channels, the revenues from advertising where bound to plummet. The fiasco of Championship Football and ITV's costly withdrawl, the paucity of innovation of any form, constantly behind the BBC in all but the plethera of "reality contests". The fiasco of telephone competition misaapropriations and its knock-on effects. ITV is a whale in what used to be a large pond of its own making, a creation of moneymen because the BBC Charter left them no scope to make more money that has floundered as the pond shrank.

    With BSkyB pumping out the commercial rubbish is there a need for a so called Independent (sic) Television, can American style product placement be more than just another nail in the coffin, or does it allow the really big whale of American TV companies to provide the commercial alternative. The attention span numbing programme sponsor breaks will make the electricity bill zoom as every three or four minutes we all pop-out to make the tea. All it does is give the Murdoch Empire what it wants, ITV will still die of the thousand cuts, but BSkyB will have free reign to totally Americanise the non-BBC provision.

    Dumb and Dumber, I think Mr Ball knows more than the board of ITV, and like a true entreprenuer that he is has given instructions to make it not happen whilst remaining the White knight, clever entreprenuer.

  • Comment number 16.

    If the Beeb had not done such a good job of dishing out free advertising for newspapers, book publishers, music makers and of course all those who pay to have their logos appear regularly in sports interviews then perhaps the Commercial outfits might have had an easier ride.

  • Comment number 17.

    A couple of years ago ATSOTCC least some people who were predicting the recession/depression said that at least the music will get better...JUST LISTENED TO "THE MUSE" ON BBC 2 TONITE........WOW!

  • Comment number 18.

  • Comment number 19.

    I find it rather distasteful that the BBC takes such glee at ITV's problems. You don't need adverts, the public pays your bills, even if they don't watch any of the wretched BBC channels. It's time to scrap the license fee, we see adverts on every other channel.

    Oh, I was forgetting, the licence fee is there so you can afford to make 'minority interest' programmes, which you can repeat ad nauseum on the digital channels.

  • Comment number 20.

    After each blog response, there is a link to 'complain about this comment'.

    Why is there no such link for the stuff that Robert posts? Is there any way to feedback comments on the content?

    I feel dirty just typing this, knowing it is fuelling the New Labour machine. But this deliberate attempt to steer more informed voters away from what really matters has to stop.

  • Comment number 21.

    Oh dear Robert, did your previous contribution open too much of a can of worms?

    I can see where you're going with this, but I don't think the misdirection will work. Mr Ball's remuneration doesn't matter to people anywhere near as much as the banks, MP's and MG Rover. Maybe it will if there are a lot of redundancies, but I think Mr Ball would be respected because he is very experienced in this sort of work.

    A little sneaky to go after the opposition don't you think?

    Or is there other mischief afoot?

  • Comment number 22.

    Now a real subject.

    Printing £175 billion a year and, via the purchase of govt debt, using it to cover the total budgets for the NHS, Education, and the Police, is not a stimulus, it's a fantasy lifestyle.

  • Comment number 23.

    When will the city watchers and the city players begin to understand that there are some issues that can't be resolved by by throwing money at a suit. More importantly, the city watchers and city players need to understand that it is in the creative/entertainment sector that the city - when allowed - can be at its most destructive.

    Successful television has always been about intelligent, creative and innovative programme makers being given the freedom to create and innovate. A shrewd guiding hand hovering discreetly in the backgound is the only other ingredient required.

    20 million on a suit who will allow accountants and economists to have an even more damaging influence on independant television? Current ITV output is the product equivalent of M & S filling their racks with shell suits and bleached jeans. M & S has prevailed (give or take) purely and simply because they have improved their creativity. The management have taken a back seat and given the reigns to excellent innovators and clever designers. The board has acted the way a board should. Not as movers, shakers and celebrities, but as planners and encouragers. Godfathers perhaps.

    What is it about selling something for a reasonable profit that the city doesn't understand? All you have to do is create and manufacture products that the consumer wants and is keen to buy. With television - that is good programmes. Don't pay oodles of wonga for a suit. Find and few Jack Goods'. A Few Tom Childs'. There are plenty out there but they wouldn't touch the current ITV with a bargepole. Corrie and more Corrie. More reality TV. More following the leaders with more cooking and more house buying. The occasional big flurry when it all becomes too embarassing, then more Corrie and more copying.

    I want to invest in an ITV that will eventually succeed again by establishing an intuitive management board who will encourage a competitive, creative environment that will give advertisers, shareholders and viewers (invariably the same thing) what they want. Unmissable television.

  • Comment number 24.

    sunbinor39 is right. One man cannot change the whole business --- if only because he can only act on the information his subordinates, and their subordinates pass on to him. And then when he does react, he has to rely on the goodwill of the employees to do as he wants. So the starting premise that a single employee, who is risking none of his capital, should receive business owner sized rewards is just wrong. What ITV needs is talent in depth, not one overpaid management prima-donna.

    And others are right too in talking about the fantasy economics that is keeping this country afloat. Maybe if enough of us start shouting loudly enough, the politicians will start to get the message.

  • Comment number 25.


    You could probably get an answer from the Archbishop of Canterbury - After his performance on Newsnight last night - he has obviously missed his true vocation!

    But the message is clear - banksters and priests within the the 'vested interests' need to repent and show some humility!


  • Comment number 26.

    Northern Thatcherite.....

    or Tittle Tattle even :)

  • Comment number 27.

    This article is pure tittle-tattle - pub talk - and would be unworthy of a place on the BBC website from a punter, nevermind a journalist. You are inviting speculation from people who cannot possibly have a clue what exactly is going on. If you have light to shed, by all means shed it. But don't make whispers from behind the twitching net-curtain.

  • Comment number 28.

    A bit OT I know but I see the clever tories are going to put 600,000 back to 'work'. How are they going to manage that when unemployment is rocketing????

    Any idea's

  • Comment number 29.

    'Make work pay!' is by far the most important issue today!
    It deserves greater public attention immediately. Serious discussion and major changes are long overdue!

  • Comment number 30.

  • Comment number 31.

    A 'Quantum of Wonga' I shall remember that quote.The next time my boss asks me 'Auden, what sort of rise are you looking for ?' I will say 'Chief, let's just say a 'Quantum of Wonga.'

    He will probably beat the 'Living Daylights' out of me !

  • Comment number 32.

    Surely, Mr Ball gets loads if he turns ITV round; nothing if he doesn't. He wants a challenge and will be handsomely rewarded if his gamble pays off.

    Determining executive pay for turning around basket cases is actually quite easy - it's clear what's required and worth rewarding when it happens.

  • Comment number 33.

    Robert, how about a piece on the BBC ? there is stark evidence , blatant even, it its bias shown towards certain stories and spinning stories on behalf of the government, this is not what the BBC is for. It is supposed to report and remain impartial which it is clearly not doing .

    There are a lot of unhappy viewers and readers who see the beeb acting like Big Brother and changing its news as it is instructed. Take a moment to do a look at it before the smelly stuff hits the fan

  • Comment number 34.

    Sorry Robert never heard of him or seen his face likes to posse for the camera so will be costly and he will not come cheap so they did not give him what he felt he was worth many of us feel like this but we just have to go and sign on, sorry could not careless another greedy man. Next !

  • Comment number 35.

    Since no-one can be bothered posting about ITV's woes, maybe I will.

    The day Charles of Granada Motorway Services took over was the day they forget that quality programmes was no. 1 pre-requisite for running a profitable TV company.

    They thought they could double-up on their banker serials, and increased Coronation St. to 3 then 4 then who-knows-how-many times a week.

    How they are still in business I do not know. I would have taken their licence off them years ago.

    They appear not to own any of the rights of the programmes, originating nothing...........

    I don't blame Tony Ball for procrastinating. ITV is a hospital-pass.
    Not even worth £2 billion makret cap? Blimey, Burberry Fashion Garments are bigger than that...

    Hey, ho.

  • Comment number 36.

    Just the usual in this country. Greed getting in the way of progress.

  • Comment number 37.

    ITV? That's the channel that gets in the way of my channel surfing from BBC2 to Channel4, right? Now that there are no restrictions on product placements inside TV shows, I have even more reason to rapidly press 'channel up' to avoid another ad-break-ridden flop.


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