Raymond Snoddy on media: ITV, prepare for Hurricane Michael

Michael Grade has had an early Christmas present from ITV. The 12.6m audience for The X Factor final suggests that, just occasionally, ITV can replicate one of its traditional old tricks - pull in a decent audience.

With Simon Cowell signing up for three more years - by coincidence the same length of contract enjoyed by Grade - one problem at least is already solved. That leaves about 99 to go.

When he takes his desk at his old 'home' in early January a few things will begin to happen quite rapidly - although not necessarily the ones people expect.

If history is any guide, Grade will launch an early charm offensive on ITV's leading advertisers, assuring them of his undivided attention and admiration. That is the part of the business that he can do something about in the short term by dispensing liberal doses of his legendary charm.

When he first went to Channel 4, Grade argued the case for the channel to the advertising community, made them feel good about themselves and helped to lift its ad revenue by about 10%.

Be prepared. You will have cigar smoke in your eyes and red socks in your face before 2007 is very old.

Then it will be time for some blood on the corporate carpet. With the exception of two knights of the realm, Sir George Russell - almost certainly responsible for landing ITV's big fish - and former Guardian Media Group stalwart Sir Bob Phillis, it's time to show the rest of the board the door.

New applicants should ideally know a bit about TV, with particular reference to rampant new technologies. It would also be good to have someone with genuine international media experience. Insularity has been an abiding sin of ITV for many years.

Would Greg Dyke be prepared to set aside enough of his ego to sit as a non-executive director on a Grade board, I wonder?

Once the board is sorted out, it will be time to tackle programmes. Expectations are high and instant magic is expected from Grade. At the very least, the headline writers presume that Simon Shaps will be sacked by the end of January and his seat filled by C4 director of programmes Kevin Lygo.

Instant drama may not be on the agenda. Grade must be painfully aware that little can be done about the programmes during the first 12 months. He has time to see whether the Shaps winter schedule cuts the mustard.

Moreover, ITV executives are just a bit prickly about the Lygo issue. Mention the name and the killer question bounces straight back: 'Name the new hits that Lygo has been responsible for at Channel 4.' Answers on a postcard to Michael Grade, please.

On the programme side, the Grade approach is much more likely to involve gradually getting to know the people he has before having a clear-out.

With clear-outs of personnel and programmes alike, there is always the danger that you will spend lots of money and end up in a worse position than you started.

The Grade magic - if there is such a phenomenon - is to give people the confidence to do and then provide the financial ammunition to enable it to happen.

As for the mess he left behind at his other old 'home', questions are still being asked about his particularly inelegant exit. The prime candidate for the leaking of the story remains the outgoing ITV chairman, Sir Peter Burt.

The real question is why Grade did not do a secret deal with ITV and stay at the BBC until the licence-fee negotiations were complete.

The answer, apart from the real danger of leaks, appears to be fears of a conflict of interest. After all, what would it have looked like had he secured only a poor licence-fee settlement for the BBC, as now looks very likely, and then skipped off to ITV?


- ITV1's Christmas Eve shows include Phillip Schofield's Night Before Christmas in which he and a host of celebrities surprise viewers by making their Christmas dreams come true. The forces serving in Iraq are treated to Christmas dinner prepared by Gary Rhodes and entertainment from opera star Katherine Jenkins.

- The channel's Christmas Day films are Alice in Wonderland, The Grinch and Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone.

- Schofield returns with a celebration of The Best Ever Christmas Films at 3.10pm, with behind-the-scenes stories from Christmas classics such as It's a Wonderful Life.

- An hour-long Coronation Street Christmas Day special is at 8pm.

- Anneka Rice returns to our screens with a one-off Challenge Anneka special at 8pm on Boxing Day to help rebuild a tsunami-struck community in Sri Lanka.


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