ITV chief steps down

ITV chief executive Adam Crozier is stepping down after seven years, as the UK broadcaster shakes up its executive ranks amid a Brexit-derived advertising slowdown.

The company, about 9.9% owned by billionaire John Malone’s Liberty Global, is a perennial subject of takeover speculation, talk that has intensified since the Brexit vote last June. Liberty Global owns TV3 and Virgin Media.

Mr Crozier will leave at the end of June and a successor will be announced “in due course”, ITV said in a statement. Finance director Ian Griffiths will take on the added role of chief operating officer, and chairman Peter Bazalgette will be executive chairman during the search.

ITV, which produces Coronation Street made a string of acquisitions under Mr Crozier including The Voice maker Talpa Media, diversifying the company to make it less dependent on advertising.

A bid to buy Peppa Pig producer Entertainment One ended without a deal last year. Advertising still makes up more than half of sales, and the company blamed a downcast outlook in March on economic uncertainty surrounding the UK’s pending negotiations to leave the EU.

The management change presents a prime opportunity for a potential buyer, said Philip Harris, a fund manager at EdenTree Investment Management in London.

“If someone was going to buy it, you’d be surprised if they didn’t do it in the next six months,” Mr Harris said “It’s at one of those strategic crossroads where an opportunistic bid might be well received by shareholders.”

A takeover is “a definite possibility” following Mr Crozier’s departure, with a joint bid from Liberty and Discovery Communications potentially on the cards, said Ian Whittaker, a media analyst at Liberum.

ITV shares were slightly lower and are little changed this year. The shares have almost quadrupled since Mr Crozier became CEO in April 2010. The departure has been in the works for some time. Sky News reported in December that ITV had hired executive-search firm Spencer Stuart for succession planning.

“It is somewhat surprising that ITV haven’t been able to find a successor yet for Crozier,” Neil Campling, an analyst with Northern Trust Capital Markets, said in a research note. “They’ve had five to six months.”

Mr Campling said traditional broadcasters are under pressure from online networks like Netflix and he remains sceptical ITV will be acquired. Mr Bazalgette said Mr Crozier, 53, had talked to him and the board about his plans “for some time”.

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