In a move long anticipated in the industry, Network Ten has appointed the advertising boss and Gruen regular Russel Howcroft to a senior executive role.
Howcroft, the chief executive of the Australian and New Zealand arm of global agency Young & Rubicam Brands, will take up the role of executive general manager at Ten in February 2013. He will be based in Melbourne and have responsibility for the network's operations in all mainland capital cities except Sydney.
Capping months of rumours, the appointment was announced by the network boss, James Warburton, this morning.
"Russel is a great leader and one of the most outstanding advertising executives in Australia. We are very pleased he is joining Network Ten," Mr Warburton said.
He added that Howcroft is "extremely well connected in the marketing, advertising and media sectors. His appointment will bring new skills and strengths to the Network Ten management team, particularly in the Melbourne market."
Ten is in desperate need of the boost that Howcroft's connections could bring. Its ratings have slumped to such a degree that it now trails the ABC. Its share of the advertising market is hovering about 23 per cent (against a target closer to 28 per cent — a serious shortfall given that each point is worth about $30 million in revenue). The recent departures of the programming chief David Mott and the publicity boss Jo'an Papadopoulos came across to some observers as moves by a damaged organisation looking desperately for scapegoats.
The appointment of Howcroft, a director of the Melbourne Football Club, will come as a welcome show of strong leadership.
Howcroft said that after 24 years working for "some of the best agencies in the world" he felt "privileged to be given the chance to pursue another great passion".
"Television is a very powerful and engaging medium and my experience over the past few years has fuelled my desire to work within the television business."
Ten has not officially revealed whether Howcroft will continue in his on-air roles on the ABC's Gruen programs, hosted by Wil Anderson and produced by Andrew Denton's production company, Zapruder's Other Films.
However, an ABC spokesperson has indicated that all signs are positive that Howcroft will remain with the program.
"He is with us for this series, which finishes in October, and while we haven't confirmed the line-up for next year our understanding is there is no reason to think he won't be able to continue with us."