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Toppers get tough at ITV

Senior staff shown door in exec purge

There is an exodus going on at ITV and, at this stage, it’s anyone’s guess if it will lead to the Promised Land.

The new management team of the U.K.’s biggest private terrestrial broadcaster is spearheading a radical overhaul aimed at improving profits and share price.

Since CEO Adam Crozier arrived at ITV barely three months ago, he’s moved quickly to weed out members of the top team.

Four senior ITV managers, including the man once handpicked to invigorate the web’s international activities, ex-Fox topper Lee Bartlett, have ankled since the beginning of the month.

Global formats chief Remy Blumenfeld has been shown the door. Others exiting over the summer are the head of marketing, the head of research, the head of commercial and the head of online.

At ITV, leaving parties are a growth industry, with still more exits expected in the coming weeks.

The new management is “really on the case,” observes ex-ITV director of television Simon Shaps. “There is a ruthless determination evident in the way they are going about things.”

So far, ITV’s commissioning team, led by Peter Fincham, remains unscathed by Crozier’s scythe.

But 150 senior managers have been ordered to undertake psychometric tests and complete a session with a life coach.

Only then, presumably, will Crozier and his newly installed lieutenants be able to tell if these executives possess the right skills to do the jobs they were hired for.

Meanwhile, ITV’s new, very hands-on chairman Archie Norman has been telling anyone who will listen that what he found at the broadcaster when he took over in January was “a shambles.”

First off, he implemented a strategic review, which is due to be completed by Crozier by the time the web announces interim results Aug. 3.

One key priority is to put greater momentum behind ITV’s international activities, which in turn means increasing production at ITV Studios, soon to be run by ex-Channel 4 topper Kevin Lygo.

“A key part of the transformation ITV will go through over the next three to five years is the strengthening of our international content business,” says Crozier.

For decades, ITV has entertained fantasies about being a big player on the international stage.

The web’s two previous toppers, Michael Grade and Charles Allen, both wanted to build a global content business to rival that of FremantleMedia, Endemol or even BBC Worldwide.

They did not succeed.

However, with the prospect of only limited future growth from traditional spot advertising and no fail-safe way of deriving anything but incremental coin from the Internet, the pressure to look beyond the U.K. has never been greater.

“Companies like FremantleMedia are light years ahead of ITV in terms of production and distribution,” says Paul Richards, media analyst at Numis Securities. “There has to be more effective co-operation between ITV’s production and distribution businesses.”

Richards calls ITV “pretty dysfunctional at the moment,” and notes that the likes of FremantleMedia have deep roots and important partnerships that have taken years to develop.

“At ITV, this is not going to happen overnight,” Richards says. “Crozier is right when he says it could take up to five years to sort things out.”

With this in mind, a new distribution chief was recently hired — managing director of global entertainment Maria Kyriacou, poached from Disney.

Ultimately, though, ITV needs new hits that are developed and produced by in-house teams, rather than buying shows from third-party providers.

Most of the web’s biggest shows — think “The X Factor” and “Britain’s Got Talent” — are made by indies.

The new partnership of Norman and Crozier, neither of whom have ever worked in TV before, may find out the hard way that even personality tests can’t fashion a template for successful creativity.

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