Prebble upped to chief exec of co.

LONDON — Major ITV companies Carlton Communications and Granada Media have confirmed they are combining the ITV web and their joint venture feevee platform ONdigital into a single business.

The move, which had been expected, is a de facto acknowledgment that ONdigital is losing the U.K.’s digital TV war to satcaster BSkyB (Daily Variety, April 24).

ONdigital will be rebranded ITV Digital, ONdigital chief exec Stuart Prebble is being upped to chief exec of ITV and existing ITV director of programs David Liddiment will oversee ONdigital’s channels.

‘Fundamental change’

“This is the most fundamental change in British broadcasting since the launch of multichannel television,” Granada chairman Charles Allen said.

The announcements come against a backdrop of slow growth for ONdigital.

In the quarter ended March 31, the broadcaster picked up a mere 75,000 subscribers, bringing its total to just under 1.1 million, a distant second to the 5 million for BSkyB’s SkyDigital.

ONdigital’s official churn figure, the number of subscribers who exit the service, is 22% — roughly twice that of BSkyB.

The restructure is not a merger. Carlton and Granada effectively control ITV but they do not own it — the ITV federation includes a number of small stations that are not part of ONdigital.

Among other changes, ONdigital chief operating officer Rob Fyfe becomes managing director for ITV Digital; ONsport plans an August relaunch as ITV Sport — a beefed-up premium sports channel that will go head-to-head with BSkyB’s popular sports services; and Carlton and Granada’s online assets will merge into ITV.com.

Playing catch-up

Critics have criticized ITV for being slow off the mark compared to BSkyB and even pubcaster BBC in the digital realm.

“ITV will now leapfrog the BBC and Sky with this new partnership,” Carlton chairman Michael Green said.

Green and Allen have been under pressure from shareholders to cut ONdigital’s funding, which has included roughly $430 million to subsidize set-top boxes and drive subscriptions.

The second year after the ITV-ONdigital relaunch is expected to produce savings of $29 million.

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