Digby down, but never mind. ITV bonanza on the way – CRR is going too

Say what you like about him, veteran ITV sales director and professional rough diamond Gary Digby will be sorely missed.

One rival, reported in the FT recently, put it this way: “Media buyers will now see ITV as an easier place to do their negotiations and will expect to save millions.”

A back-handed compliment if ever there was one. Digby and the three senior members of his staff who also got the boot have been closely associated with ITV’s Lazarus-like commercial recovery last year. Conservatively, ITV made about £1.55bn from advertising revenue in 2010, an increase of over 15%.

Fru Hazlitt, the new ITV commercial director who did the booting, evidently sees root-and-branch restructuring of the sales department as a vital prerequisite to streamlining ITV’s analogue and digital offer. Which it may well be. But the media buying community has a different take on things: Kelly Williams (ex-Channel 5) and the rest of the Hazlitti imports are going to be a push-over by comparison with the Digby regime.

Personally, I wouldn’t like to speculate on how weak the ITV ratecard will be from now on. I make just one observation. If relief is ever needed in the ITV Alamo, then the cavalry is certainly on its way.

Yes, Jeremy Hunt – the newly empowered government media czar and part-time culture secretary – has unambiguously signalled that he intends to abolish Contract Rights Renewal – the advertiser-friendly sales corset that squeezes tens of millions of pounds off ITV’s revenue line every year. The only trouble (from ITV’s point of view) is that some waiting is involved before the relief arrives. Hunt intends to bundle repeal of the hated constraint into the Communications Bill which may, or may not, pass into law by the end of next year.

What Hunt’s motives are we can only guess. Some point to his ideological preference for laissez-faire capitalism. Others, more politically cynical, suspect that the CRR gesture may not be unconnected to Hunt’s invidious task of adjudicating the Murdochs’ controversial bid for the 61% of BSkyB they do not already own. After all, what could be more even-handed than to wave through both measures? Strictly in the interests of media plurality, you understand.

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