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Is There More to ITV than Simon Cowell?

ITV, the UK commercial broadcaster, has been in crisis for as long as most investors can remember.

Under pressure from a well-funded state broadcaster on one side and Rupert Murdoch’s SkyTV platform on the other, the story of ITV has been one of falling ad revenue and viewing figures.

As a new CEO prepares to join the group, things are finally looking up.

Having managed to post a full year profit despite a 9 percent drop in advertising in 2009, on the back of cost cutting, Adam Crozier, the turnaround specialist due to take over the group on April 26th, has a number of factors in his favor.

First up is a low base from which to build upon. First quarter revenues are expected to be 7 percent higher and to rise by another 15-20 percent in April. With a World Cup due in June, viewing numbers are expected to be higher well into the third quarter.

Secondly, ITV has finally managed to get its head around the internet and its ITV Player is beginning to gain traction with consumers. How Crozier monetizes this new business area will be the key to the medium term ITV story.

But the big issue as with all commercial broadcasters in content. As it stands, ITV's biggest draw is Simon Cowell and the X-Factor and "Britain's Got Talent" franchises.

What Crozier needs to do is improve ITV's sketchy track record in long-form drama and comedy, which have for some years been far weaker than those of the BBC and the huge amount of US shows that fill up the digital world.

If Crozier cannot do this, his record as a turnaround specialist could be lost and investors might decide to vote him off the show with less sympathy than Simon Cowell rejecting a sub-standard fire-eater or wannabe pop star.

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