Interviews – Media – Clive Jones

Carlton Television chief executive Clive Jones, 51, started out in the TV industry 25 years ago. He worked for ITV companies Yorkshire Television, TVAM and TVS before arriving at Carlton. The company has received government approval for its proposed £8 billion merger with rival media firm United News & Media. Jones reflects on how UK TV companies are now having to expand both internationally and into new media in order to survive; and offers insights on how budding TV producers and media moguls can break into a notoriously competitive employment sector

On 25 years in the TV industry

How far are you away from achieving what you’d like to with Carlton?
Whatever happens (with the Carlton/United merger) we will continue to develop all of our businesses. ITV is a great business to be in. It is the most popular single channel in the UK and even though we’ll see greater and greater digital TV penetration by other channels, giving ITV a lower absolute share in five, ten or 15 years, it’ll still be the biggest game in town.

The intent of the strategy (Carlton chairman) Michael Green and (United chief executive) Clive Hollick have laid out is to try and create a more focused, powerful media company. Carlton has a very significant presence in the UK, but we have to prepare ourselves for the future, where we have the ability and opportunity to compete internationally.

That’s the whole way the media is developing. We’ve already seen the AOL/Time Warner merger, Seagram Universal, we’re seeing Murdoch looking to spin-off various satellite ventures as a separate company, Microsoft taking stakes in European cable companies.

You started out in TV as a programme maker and then moved into management. Do you enjoy it as much now that you are not as close to the creative side of the industry?
I came into TV to make programmes and most of the happiest moments I’ve had in TV have been doing just that. From very early on in Yorkshire TV making little news and sports programmes, to helping set up the first commercial breakfast TV broadcaster TVAM, to going on to make network and regional programmes for other ITV companies.

Obviously now I do a slightly different job, but I hope that what I do actually enables people to make high quality programmes. This is a people business and you have to keep your eye very firmly on having the right mix of great staff. It’s a different form of pleasure – finding the right talent and ensuring they have the right atmosphere, facilities and money to make the programme, whether it be sport, news or drama.

I think one advantage I have (in management) is the organisational skills I developed when I was making news and current affairs and doing big event programmes – general election coverage for TVAM, or being involved in a telethon for ITV.

Can you recall a single moment when your leader or management skills were particularly tested and how you handled it?
One of the worst moments in my life was when (ITV south of England broadcaster) TVS lost its franchise and there was still two years (for the licence to run). I had to immediately get over the disappointment and get on with managing the company, continue to make it profitable and begin planning a new strategy, either for its continuation or for the future careers of the staff either within or without the firm.

What did you learn from that episode? Did you have to hold your emotions in check to keep the show on the road?
I think we now live in a complex, ever changing world and the art of both surviving and prospering are as important as learning to stay very cool. You have to be able to take the long view and at times remain firmly detached.

Is there an unsatisfied passion you would still like to realise?
I think anyone working in TV wants to be involved in landmark programming and that can be in sport or documentary making, new drama, comedy – any genre. So yes, I have an unfulfilled ambition, but I would hope that over the next year or two there will still be landmark programming that in some way I’m involved in or the company I’m working for is.

Breaking into the media

Any tips for graduates looking to break into the TV industry, in terms of the skills and temperament required?
To get into the media, you have to be prepared to work a lot harder than if you were in other sectors, such as engineering or agriculture. It’s very competitive. What frightens me is all these people pouring out of media degrees think they’re entering an enormously expanding business. It is expanding – the old media will need to recruit more people as more channels and new media outlets are launched. But it’s still never ever going be enormous enough to soak up all those media studies graduates.

I think you’ve got to be prepared before you even think about going to an interview. You’ve really got to research the company you’re going to work for – how they work, how they operate, the skills that they’re looking for.

I think much more than in any other industry, you’ve got to take the opportunity while you’re in university to start developing relevant skills – whether those are IT skills, production skills. You’ll be competing with a lot of other people with good degrees. You have to find anyway possible to get an edge somewhere, to make yourself distinctive and more attractive to prospective employers.

What is Carlton’s graduate recruitment policy?
The bulk of our employees tend to be graduates, whether in sales, research or programming. When I started out in TV 25 years ago, there were many people who worked their way up from the post room who had never been to university. Now it’s the complete reverse. Even some of the kids now in the post room have degrees.

We’ve had a fast track graduate trainee management scheme ever since Carlton began in 1992, it’s been highly successful and we’ve got a lot of talent out of it. We used to take on two people and now we’ve expanded that and we’re taking on 18 people this year (don’t apply now because the places are already filled) and I believe we’re committed to that number for next year also.

The original scheme was very much management orientated, now that’s been a little bit more segmented and we’re looking to take on management trainees with good degrees for production and broadcasting. In sales and the new media division, because business is developing very quickly, developing multi-skilled people yourself is much more attractive than having to buy the skills in.

The future of TV – the big picture

What is your assessments of the key trends in the UK TV industry?
By the end of the year there will be two dominant companies in ITV as distinct from three (Carlton, United News & Media and Granada). Obviously we believe one of those dominant companies will be the merged Carlton United.

Depending on the government’s legislative timetable, I would have thought within three, certainly four years, there will be one ITV company. ITV will be cleared to operate as a single entity both within the UK and internationally – as UK TV Ltd, if you like. This will provide the clear advantage of having one very strong commercial player who can compete internationally.

The second trend is the real, terrific ramping up of the digital TV proposition. Britain is very much on the cutting edge of this new technology. Obviously Sky is powering ahead with its digital satellite TV proposition and the UK was also the first nation in the world to establish a fully working digital terrestrial TV network – On Digital. And later this year through BT, Kingston and the cable companies we’re going to see ADSL (TV and Internet via phone lines) and broadband (which allows far more media and Internet services to be transmitted via cable and phone lines) developed in a significant way.

Can you give examples of the difference these new services will make for TV viewers?
We will be rolling out interactive advertising onto the ITV and ITV2 digital services this autumn, initially in London, but then we’ll be doing it for the whole of ITV very, very quickly. It offers the possibility of watching a car ad and going into a deeper service where you can actually see the full car spec, look around inside it, look up where your local garage is and book a test drive. Great proposition for the consumer, great proposition for the advertiser.

The future of interactivity is going to be finding those creative concepts which really bring added value that’s distinct from just getting an extra camera angle on a football game you’re following.

Great drama will still be great drama. There won’t be much interactivity, though there might be the odd gimmick to choose the ending or who dies – Mrs Green in the library with the Candlestick. But I still think drama will be intrinsically drama, with talented actors, actresses, writers and producers.

However, I think in certain areas of factual, sport, music and events programming, interactivity will be about providing additional info, via the screen – whether it’s the TV or PC.

Also, we’ve already seen on the Internet how rapidly MP3 has developed and how people can pull down high quality audio into these small machines that provide the same quality you get from a CD. Inevitably over time we’re going to see the same thing happening in video.

What impact will the growth of digital TV – with interactivity and the ability for viewers to personalise what they watch – have on the skills required to work in the TV industry?
It creates a whole new range of opportunities for creative talent. But it also creates new challenges for broadcasters. For instance traditionally footage has been shot on film and tape, but in the future it will be digitally shot and stored.

When it comes to the skills needed to succeed in television, there will be an even greater demand for multi-skilling. Of course great drama will require all the specific craft skills. But the growing trend in production will be to make the most of the creative opportunities offered by interactivity. This will mean people having to combine a passion for their subject with the ability to organise the material and generate different angles.

What do you make of the BBC’s recent announcement that it wants to turn BBC 1 and BBC 2 into genre specific channels based around entertainment and factual programming? Where does that leave ITV, which is a mixed schedule channel?
The idea of turning BBC TV into the video equivalent of Radio 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 I think is a highly controversial move for a publicly funded, public service broadcaster. I think it strikes at the very heart of BBC TV in terms of providing a general mixed schedule of programming.

I know it’s often said that people don’t watch channels anymore, they watch programmes. I think to a degree there’s an element of truth in that, but I still think that the vast majority of viewers will continue to expect the BBC to deliver a schedule of range and diversity.

I also believe that will continue to be one ITV’s great strengths. Being a broadcaster that operates on a regional and national level, providing a quality national, international and regional news service but also continuing to provide a schedule of range and diversity.

I think ITV and the BBC will concentrate in the future of providing those services that genre-specific commercial channels are neither able or willing to provide, because they don’t put lots of bums on seats or command commercial revenues.

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