ITV makes the Grade

Beeb vet takes off to rival net BBC chairman makes surprise move

BBC chairman Michael Grade has surprised British TV industryites by ankling the pubcaster to become executive chairman of arch-rival ITV, Blighty’s biggest private terrestrial web.

News leaked out late Monday ahead of a formal announcement expected today.

Grade, whose early TV career included a stint as program topper at ITV station LWT, will take over at the embattled web next year. ITV’s current chairman, Peter Burt, is expected to leave the company.

The hope is that Grade’s experience and stature within the British TV business will help restore ITV’s self-respect and boost its flagging stock price and indifferent program performance.

Burt’s inability to find and appoint a successor to CEO Charles Allen, who was ousted in August, has drawn criticism from London’s financial community and from his fellow board members.

“It is wonderful to have a really significant figure leading us,” an ITV exec said. “Grade is highly regarded by creatives and the business community.”

It’s believed Grade will run the company and acting CEO John Creswell will work under him as chief operating officer. Grade is understood to have said he is committed to the job for three years.

The defection of Grade, a former head of Channel 4 and director of TV at the BBC, appears to have taken the pubcaster completely by surprise.

There will be considerable anger within the BBC that Grade, who became chairman two years ago following the spat with the government over the BBC’s reporting of the Iraq war, has decided to leave when the Beeb is in the final throes of negotiating a new license fee with pols.

Grade, 63, also was due to head the BBC’s new external management committee, the BBC Trust, which is yet to establish itself.

His appointment is all the more remarkable given satcaster BSkyB’s recent decision to take a 17.9% stake in ITV.

In the past, Grade has not been the biggest cheerleader for either BSkyB or its main stockholder, News Corp.

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