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Put the Ball into ITV shareholders’ court

September 21, 2009

Tony Ball is one of the most talented executives in British television. He must be, because ITV, the country’s biggest commercial broadcaster, is prepared to offer him a pay package which could make him 20 million pounds over five years.

Unfortunately, Ball thinks that 30 million would be nearer his true value. Oh, and by the way, he doesn’t think much of the turkeys on the ITV board either. He has a point. Executive chairman Michael Grade has done almost everything in television and entertainment except to make it pay. George Russell brings all his experience at Northern Rock and the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust to bear as deputy chairman. The senior independent director is James Crosby, who ran HBOS onto the rocks of the banking crisis.

Yet there is a simple way to resolve the board’s problem: ask the shareholders. This may lack the drama of a reality tv show (although, on second thoughts…) but putting Ball’s package to a general meeting for approval ticks all the boxes.

It would strengthen the hand of the directors in their negotiations: “We know you’re worth every penny, Tony, but the shareholders just won’t wear it”. Those paying the Ball bill would have to be persuaded, if necessary by the great man himself.

Besides, if he takes the job, the details of his pay, incentives for getting out of bed, for staying long enough to make a difference, for pension, car, gardeners, and all the other things without which no modern chief executive can function will have to be revealed in due course.

Ball is in many ways the obvious choice to run ITV, and the share price has perked up no end since his name was leaked into the frame. He is the man who successfully force-fed a nation of couch potatoes with a diet of digital footie at ever-rising prices when he ran Sky.

ITV is a trickier prospect, and it’s hard to believe he’s the only man on the planet capable of rescuing it, whatever the boardroom turkeys think. If they won’t vote for Christmas, they should let the owners of the business do so.

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