Granada programming 'genius' Simon Shaps has made a surprising move to run its new media division Granada Broadband. Colin Robertson reports.
When Granada Media Productions managing director Simon Shaps gave up his relatively recent job to become head of Granada's shiny new offshoot, Granada Broadband, a few eyebrows were inevitably raised.

Here was the company's programming 'genius' handing over his enviable clutch of production duties to turn his talents to that promising - but still largely non-existent - world of broadband. Yes, broadband is an important emerging medium, but shouldn't it be steered by ex-cable gurus and their bands of merry twenty-somethings, went the chorus?Sensing the bewilderment, the Granada spin factory was at pains last week (three separate calls from three separate individuals in the space of three minutes, no less) to stress that this appointment was a significant step in Granada's plans to become the leading supplier of content to emerging technologies. Any suggestion that it was in any way a demotion was a million miles from the truth. That's what they said.

'I have chosen to nurse myself in the new media world having spent my career in traditional TV,' Shaps explained, adding that it was an entirely personal decision to make the move. So what exactly will the former Cambridge Evening News reporter turned Granada-lifer be doing?The finer details of Granada Broadband's plans are firmly under wraps, but it is understood that the new division will be a 'small, fast-moving department' manned by six executives with a brief to fully exploit all Granada's disparate elements in the broadband environment.

One senior source comments: 'I was surprised at the appointment, because Simon is such an expert at traditional TV. You would have thought (Granada) would have got someone with a new media background.'

'I thought he'd be the natural managing director of Granada Creative,' says another, referring to the newly named terrestrial production division at Granada.

In an environment that has as much to do with understanding complicated technology as it does with deciding what to eventually use it for, Shaps could find himself wishing he was back in the Rovers Return discussing celebrities' fees.

'Simon is a very quick learner, very voracious,' says LWT controller of entertainment Nigel Lythgoe, whose Gladiator name for Shaps is Ferret, because he is 'fast-moving and sleek'. He claims Manchester United fanatic Shaps' 'overwhelming tenacity' will see him grapple with a new skillset in no time. 'When he became director of programmes at LWT, he knew very little about entertainment and within three months he understood it,' says Lythgoe of the man who worked for LWT for 14 years before joining Granada Media Productions in 1997.

As well as his programming nous, Shaps also has a thirst for collaboration. Sources suggest a significant collaboration with a non-TV focused company - possibly NTL or BT - is on the cards, which would better prepare Granada for its broadband future. Shaps will be instrumental in any such deal.

Rivals and colleagues agree that Shaps, who has just returned from a week-long fact-finding mission in Silicon Valley, would not let unfamiliarity hinder his ambition. 'He's fast, compelling, enigmatic and mischievous,' says Channel 5 director of programmes Dawn Airey. 'There's a fist of iron in that very nice glove. He can be a piranha like most people.'

Shaps, whose leisure time is spent 'hanging out in Primrose Hill' and organising Saturday morning football for juniors, is also known for his enormous confidence.

Lythgoe recalls how, when director of programmes at LWT, Shaps was 'never worried about putting strong people beneath him. Some people would put lapdogs beneath them so they don't threaten their own jobs.

Simon doesn't worry about things like that.' Nor, it would seem, does Granada management.

Shaps claims to have no 'best friends' in the current government, but he will be aware that cosying up to ministers will be increasingly important as Granada bids for public money for services such as its education channel Result (above).