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ITV CEO on Advertising Rebound: “I Hope That Will Last”

The Hollywood Reporter logo The Hollywood Reporter 9/15/2021 Georg Szalai
Carolyn McCall wearing glasses and smiling at the camera © EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images

U.K. TV giant ITV has seen an advertising “bounceback” after the coronavirus pandemic hit, but the near-term outlook remains unclear, CEO Carolyn McCall told an industry conference on Wednesday.

She also said Piers Morgan would do “really well” wherever he ends up. Morgan left ITV’s Good Morning Britain after making controversial comments about Meghan Markle’s mental health that drew a lot of criticism. McCall said ITV “vigorously defended” Morgan and freedom of speech and expression as part of a review of complaints by U.K. regulator Ofcom that recently cleared Morgan.

Speaking at the Royal Television Society Cambridge Convention, whose theme is “Broadcast Britain: Reshaping Britishness on the Global Stage,” she also noted the ad rebound and said: “I hope that will last, but we don’t know, we don’t know how the winter is going to pan out yet. … There still remains uncertainty.”

McCall added: “I’m fine with uncertainty, because I think we have a robust business, and we actually have a more resilient business now than we did when we went into lockdown. So, I think we can absorb the uncertainty, we just have to keep moving ahead.”

Asked about the impact of COVID-19 on the business, she said that, “the pandemic has been accelerating our digital transformation,” with technology being both “a great disruptor” and an opportunity.

In that context, the CEO noted that ITV used to be mostly funded by linear TV ad revenue, but now gets about 50 percent from advertising, including digital spending, with the other 50 percent coming from its ITV Studios and other businesses. “How we make money has had to change,” she said.

She picked up on that theme when asked about the possible privatization of Britain’s Channel 4 and whether ITV could make a bid for the TV company. As she did before, McCall declined to comment, saying she wouldn’t speculate. For now, “this is really a matter for the government,” which is considering the privatization, she argued, but noted the “dramatic shift” in how media companies are making money in recent years.

McCall also said Channel 4 outbid ITV for the rights to show the U.S. Open final with U.K. tennis star Emma Raducanu this weekend. “We really wanted it,” but “had to make money,” she said.

Recently, McCall had said she sees the fact that Hollywood and other media giants are increasingly keeping their content for their own streaming services as a chance for the company’s ITV Studios production arm. “People (are) taking back their catalogs – if you are Disney, you have taken everything back, if you are Warners, you have taken everything back, you just name it, every single company that produces content has taken all their content back to do their own streaming, which means that streamers always need content,” she said. “It is a big beast, and they got to feed it.”

Noted the ITV CEO: “We are in a very strong position to take advantage, to continue to take advantage of the content growth globally.”

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