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New ITV Chairman Peter Bazalgette Faces Challenges as Audience Share Slides

LONDON — Peter Bazalgette, the new chairman of ITV, is as comfortable talking content as he is debating the more arcane aspects of media regulation. Few of British TV’s top brass are as experienced — or as well connected — as the 62-year-old Bazalgette, or Baz, as he likes to be known.

Bazalgette effortlessly rubs shoulders with U.S. content kings, senior British politicians and fashionable independent producers. A food writer for the Financial Times and author of “Billion Dollar Game,” which contained an insider’s account of his one-time boss, Endemol co-founder John de Mol, Bazalgette is a man of many parts. He once said his hobbies are opera and gluttony, an interesting insight into the TV topper who persuaded U.K. web Channel 4 to buy “Big Brother.”

From setting up indie Bazal Productions — sold to what became Endemol — to “Big Brother,” Bazalgette’s career has mapped many of the changes in the TV business during the past 30 years.

“Baz was either going to get the ITV job or be head hunted as the next BBC chairman,” said a seasoned industry observer.

Bazalgette is taking over the ITV hot seat at a critical time for the company. Outgoing chairman Archie Norman can look back at a job well done. Before Norman appointed Adam Crozier as ITV’s CEO, the outfit’s stock price had fallen to an all-time low of 23.25p in 2009. Today the value stock stands at more than 10 times that figure.

As the owner of 15 production companies — five of them based in the U.S. — as well as the dynamic ITV Studios, the firm has successfully rebalanced its business. ITV no longer depends upon ad revenue for most of its coin.

“Today ITV is as much focused on production as it is on the broadcasting business,” said media commentator Steve Hewlett. “But can it sustain the production business, which it has spent a huge amount of money on acquiring? In the U.S. ITV does not own the rights to shows made by the indies it owns as it does in the U.K.”

Nevertheless, around 55% of ITV’s revenue still involves selling ads and most of this is earned from main channel ITV. ITV’s audience share has been dropping for some time. Last month Peter Fincham quit as director of television. His swift exit followed a succession of underperforming shows including “Jekyll and Hyde” and big-budget drama “Beowulf.” The boss of ITV Studios, Kevin Lygo, succeeded Fincham. It is Lygo’s job to reinvigorate the performance of the flagship channel.

Lygo and Bazalgette know each other well. Not that the new chairman (Baz has been an ITV board member since June 2013) will meddle in day-to-day commissioning or scheduling decisions. He will, however, have a big say in ITV’s overall business strategy and hire whoever eventually succeeds Crozier.

“Peter can be inspirational and far-sighted,” adds Hewlett. “And with his experience in production he should be able to provide some valuable scrutiny of ITV’s production businesses.”

Expect more U.S. acquisitions and an even more aggressive approach to creating content under Bazalgette’s tenure.

“ITV has gone through a remarkable resurgence during Archie’s chairmanship, and there is still so much more that we can achieve,” Bazalgette said in a statement.

As ITV weighs up the next phase of its expansion strategy in a rapidly changing TV landscape, even the undoubted expertise of Bazalgette and Lygo could be tested at ITV.

Meanwhile the betting in U.K. media circles is that ITV remains a takeover target for a U.S. media company. With Baz on board, U.S. ownership may have moved a step nearer.

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