ALEX BRUMMER: BT boss Jansen made a bad call and might get cut off 

When Philip Jansen was signed up as chief executive of BT in October 2018, there was optimism that he was what was needed.

Jansen had a strong record in technology transformation at Worldpay and brought a hard-nosed private equity background to the scene.

He made all the right noises about speeding up the roll out of £12billion fibre-to-the door broadband. 

High hopes: BT boss Philip Jansen had a strong record in technology transformation at Worldpay and brought a hard-nosed private equity background to the scene

The vexing question was whether he had the right CV and temperament to work in a public company where a broad group of stakeholders are involved.

Private equity chieftains are not known for spending a great deal of time worrying about the workforce, suppliers, customer service or government. 

Jansen overplayed his hand when he took his grievances about chairman Jan du Plessis to the board, precipitating the latter’s sudden departure. It is the job of chairman to sack the chief executive, not the other way round.

BT’s handling of the du Plessis departure, and the attempt to suppress any notion of a boardroom dispute, has been lamentable.

When this paper suggested that the du Plessis departure followed a schism over strategy, the denials were fast and furious. Jansen has been impatient to release up to £20billion or so of value in broadband and exchanges infrastructure arm Openreach.

After further weekend reports of a board confrontation, BT put out a statement claiming that du Plessis ‘has been very supportive of management’ and denied any ‘misalignment’. 

BT shares staged a mini-revival after du Plessis announced he was leaving. At 136.9p, the shares are deeply in the doldrums and the group is worth barely more than the £12.5billion paid for mobile provider EE in 2016. In spite of all the protestations of harmony that is not the case.

As well as finding du Plessis hard going, Jansen has also had difficulties with his inherited finance director Simon Lowth. 

Kingmaker Iain Conn, the senior non-executive, is going to find it hard to find a strong independent new chairman after the du Plessis rupture. 

No one of substance will want to take charge at a company where a harassed chief executive has provoked the departure of a hugely respected chairman.

It may be that BT with its legacy of bureaucratic structure, pension fund deficit, overpayments for football rights and unexciting delivery of fibre targets is unmanageable. 

But after a disastrous couple of years for the shares, and a clumsy boardroom power play, don’t expect Jansen to be around for long.

Reality TV

If only ITV had a Meghan interview each night. The Oprah spectacle brought in 12.4m viewers and had Unilever and other advertisers falling over each other for a mass UK audience.

What is often missed is that as a free-to-air terrestrial broadcaster, ITV is able to deliver the kind of audiences that pay-for-view and streaming channels can only dream of. Admittedly in 2020 advertising revenues dropped to £1.6billion from £1.8billion.

With so much non-essential retail and entertainment closed, it is not surprising there was a hit. But as restrictions are eased spend is set to soar. 

The bigger hurt for ITV has been on production, which in recent years has been booming. Clearly, ITV cannot compete with the multi-billion budgets of Netflix, Disney or Amazon. 

However, as chief executive Carolyn McCall likes to point out, its crime dramas have huge appeal, as does Love Island and the evergreen Coronation Street. Its £1billion production budget may look second division, but buys a lot of eyes.

By teaming up with the BBC and Channel 4 on BritBox, the UK broadcasters have opened a treasure chest of programming. 

BritBox has acquired 500,000 subscriptions rapidly and is no longer sharing new output with Netflix. The regulatory challenge is to persuade Ofcom that ITV news and programmes receive proper display on cable and satellite. That’s only fair.

Steel nerves

Greensill may be an orphan as far as City regulators are concerned, but inattention to an impending financial crash could cost Britain dearly.

In his first comments on the Greensill implosion, Liberty Steel boss Sanjeev Gupta didn’t sound hopeful about the future of UK plants and 5,000 jobs. 

That may just be a bargaining position as he seeks to engage government. It is worth Whitehall bearing in mind that with China, the US and Britain embarking on big infrastructure projects and metal prices surging, it would be madness to shrink capacity now.

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