LONDON — Michael Green, the maverick media entrepreneur who created Blighty broadcaster Carlton Communications 20 years ago, bowed to the inevitable Tuesday and stepped down as chairman-elect of commercial giant ITV.
Green’s undignified exit is unprecedented even in the annals of boardroom power struggles. It raises big questions about what sort of company ITV will be when its two main shareholders, Carlton and Granada, merge their operations.
Green’s departure came after Granada directors, who two weeks ago were praising his skill in helping seal the $6.5 billion merger deal, sided with rebellious Carlton stockholders led by U.S. institutional investor Fidelity.
They have been plotting for months to ditch Green, whom they hold personally responsible for losing billions of their dollars on abortive pay TV venture ITV Digital, which he had championed.
After an emergency board meeting, Carlton announced it would give an “undertaking to Fidelity and other shareholders accepting their request that an independent nonexecutive chairman from outside Carlton and Granada should be appointed chairman designate of ITV on completion of the merger, expected in 2004.”
Earlier, Granada put out a statement that sealed Green’s fate: “The board has given careful consideration to the request put forward by a group of investors representing, in aggregate, some 33% of the equity of Granada and some 36% of the equity of Carlton that an independent, nonexecutive chairman of ITV should be nominated.”
The decision marks the end of a colorful career at the head of ITV for the 55-year-old Green, famous for his short fuse and hands-on role.
Green, whose Carlton Television outbid incumbent Thames Television for the London weekday ITV franchise more than a decade ago, had hoped to take ITV into a new era alongside Granada topper Charles Allen, who is to be CEO of the merged broadcaster.
But Carlton’s investors had other plans. Word emerged Tuesday that Fidelity wanted Green’s head within a day of the merger being greenlit by the British government.
Green, whose personal relations with Allen have long been stormy, will remain chair of Carlton until January, when the merged company is expected to take shape.
The new ITV always has been presented as a merger of Granada, the U.K.’s oldest commercial broadcaster, and Carlton. In fact, as the ousting of Green has proved, it amounted to a takeover by Granada — with the lion’s share of senior positions going to Granada execs.
Among favorites for the chairman role is Gerry Robinson, Allen’s ex-Granada colleague, who helped the company emerge as the most powerful force in ITV a decade ago when it bid successfully for London Weekend Television.
Other potential candidates are David Chance, ex-topper of Rupert Murdoch-backed satcaster BSkyB, and David Elstein, ex-CEO of terrestrial channel Five. (Elstein was just named nonexecutive chairman of London-based media research/publishing concern Screen Digest.)
Now that ITV appears to be under Granada’s united leadership, it is anyone’s guess whether this increases the chances of a U.S. bid for the web in coming months.
Within the industry, many believe Allen remains vulnerable and that the end game of shareholders is to sell ITV to the highest bidder.
Although Allen is a respected businessman, Granada was a willing participant in the ITV Digital disaster, and it is not difficult to find powerful investors who regard him as being tainted by ITV’s failures.