It would be a bit like giving soldiers posthumous awards for
bravery but Bruce Gyngell, the former chief executive of TV-am, really
should get a medal for being right.
In the real world, of course, there are no awards for being proved
right, eventually. Liz Forgan was right to be in a minority of one
opposing the move of BBC Radio to White City, and all the associated
Her reward was a settlement that included an undertaking not to disclose
her reasons for resigning for five years.
But rarely has anybody been so completely vindicated as Bruce Gyngell
over his apparently bizarre, no-hope bid to retain his breakfast
Then, as managing director of Yorkshire Television, Gyngell was also in
a minority of one in ITV as he argued that it would be impossible to
modernise the schedule without first moving News at Ten.
It’s not bad to be vindicated twice in less than a week.
After the ITC slashed GMTV’s licence fees by 60% from January 1, to much
less than Bruce bid in 1991, he was not in a triumphant mood. He merely
allowed himself to enjoy ’the small pleasure’ of being proved right.
Those marketers who were still in school in 1991 need to be told just
how intense the drama was at the time. The atmosphere was electric at a
TV-am awards ceremony the day after the licence awards, when Gyngell
read out a letter from Mrs Thatcher saying she had never intended such
an outcome. It was probably the closest she has ever come to saying
What is now clear is that Gyngell paid the price for his savvy and
knowledge of the TV market. Something like 34% of TV-am’s revenue came
at the time from children’s advertising. Bruce says he predicted
correctly that the arrival of cartoon channels on cable and satellite
would siphon off most of that money and therefore bid pounds 14.13m to
the pounds 34.61m of GMTV. Such predictive power cost him dear and he is
right to question the competence of the ITC’s financial judgement.
There was another small but interesting admission in the ITC
The doubling of Ulster’s tab from pounds 1m a year to pounds 2m, a
penalty on success will cause an eyebrow to be raised at TVNi whose bid
of pounds 3.1m was ruled out as unsustainable. There is now little doubt
that the judgement was wrong.
The revaluations of 11 of the licences exposes the flaws in the 1990
Broadcasting Act and goes a long way to smoothing out the many anomalies
But perhaps the biggest anomaly has yet to become obvious. All of the
existing ITV licence holders have effectively got franchises for life as
long as they accept the ITC’s evaluations and don’t fake too many
The theory, of course, was that with the coming of digital, ITV
franchises would eventually not be worth much and that would be
reflected in the licence value. What if that theory is flawed and there
will always be a place for free-to-air commercial channels. Then no new
players will ever again be able to challenge for an ITV licence - not
even Bruce Gyngell.