Unexciting debut welcome for ITV

At a recent lunch attended by the leading lights of Hong Kong, the host asked what the London media thought of the former colony. These days, the media do not think about it much, came the reply. The lack of media interest was taken as a sign that all was fine.

I was reminded of this on Monday, when ITV’s shares were listed for the first time. It was a quiet debut. The symbolism was real enough, but the listing itself was no more than a mathematical exercise: Granada and Carlton now one under a new banner. As with Hong Kong, the lack of excitement was welcome.

The ITV saga has already left its share of PR casualties, none bigger than Carlton chairman Michael Green. Even he was probably shocked at his unpopularity with fund managers and the zeal with which they kicked him.His decision to retain Brunswick’s Alan Parker for a PR offensive to try to keep his job as chairman of the new company was a mistake. It raised the stakes, polarised City opinion, led to brutal examination of his record and made his fall all the more public.

That said, the noise has caused fund managers to cool things. Trapped in the headlights alongside Green and Granada’s Charles Allen, they did not like it. Commentators who saw the scrap as marking a sea change in shareholder assertiveness have misread things. Fund managers don’t like that kind of publicity.

Nor is the company out of the woods. Some would like to see Allen follow Green out of the door, and the big test will be whether he can mend his reputation sufficiently to avoid a coup against him. My betting is he will.

John Clare at Citigate Dewe Rogerson gave Allen a reputation for competence that was destroyed by the ITV Digital disaster. But restoring a once-favoured reputation is a lot tougher than building it up in the first place. It’s not going to be easy – for Allen or for ITV.

anthony.hilton@haynet.com

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