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ITV’s Grade seeks to end indie quota

Company must outsource 25% of production

LONDON — ITV’s campaign to scrap the quota that forces it to take at least a quarter of its shows from independent producers has moved up a gear.

Michael Grade, the web’s executive chairman, described the quota as an “utter nonsense” at a briefing following a speech to the Royal Television Society on Wednesday.

He said: “Does Tesco (Blighty’s biggest supermarket chain) have quotas on their suppliers? Do they have to have 25% of their root vegetables come from one sector? … It’s nonsensical.

“The independent sector produces vibrant, exciting, fantastically successful pieces of content … they’ve served the industry brilliantly.

“But it should be a market transaction. They are suppliers. They can go to the BBC; they can go to us; they can go to Sky. There are many shops they can go to.

“The independent production sector now has more of a hold over the market. There are some big beasts out there.

“It should be an arm’s length market negotiation. The idea of having a quota at 25% is nonsense — utter nonsense.”

The topper’s outburst will infuriate U.K. producers’ lobby group, Pact, and media regulator Ofcom, which recently said that ITV should continue to have to take 25% of its programs from indies.

Grade and his team are in crucial negotiations with Ofcom over how much of ITV’s present public service obligations the battling broadcaster must keep.

In his RTS speech, Grade said that while ITV prefers to remain a licensed public service broadcaster, providing guaranteed levels of U.K. production and impartial news, he was prepared to become a purely commercial operator.

“Then we would be complete masters of our destiny,” the ITV executive chairman told reporters.

However, in such a scenario ITV would be highly unlikely to abandon its high levels of investment in original U.K. shows, because a key part of the outfit’s so-called turnaround strategy involves beefing up earnings from production, both at home and overseas.

“The irony is that when ITV had a lot of money the schedules were full of U.S. shows,” Grade recalled. “Now we are short of money our most successful programs are all U.K. shows.”