Ian Whittaker has been watching television. More specifically, he’s been watching ITV, and rather likes what he sees. Not the programmes, of course, unless you’re a Downton junkie or an X-Factor fan. It’s the prospect of cash from making programmes that has got the Liberum analyst hooked. He believes that ITV could comfortably pay out a quarter of its current £5.3bn market value, on top of normal dividends, to its shareholders over the next three years.

This is an extraordinary turnaround. Five years ago, ITV looked near death. Free-to-air commercial television seemed to be becoming a quaint curiosity, like the canals, overtaken by speedier and more efficient delivery systems. The shares joined the 90 per cent club, while the debt piled up. In 2010 Archie Norman, having decided that commerce was easier than politics, took the chair, pinching Adam Crozier from the Royal Mail to be CEO.

Their idea, to make more popular programmes more efficiently, was almost banal, but execution had eluded the previous management. Today the creative talent, demoralised or dismissed in the crisis, feels more confident, and the likes of Mr Selfridge and Titanic are the result. Overseas, new channels are gasping for English-language programming, while at home ITV is lobbying hard for the right to impose retransmission fees on Sky and the cable guys. As Mr Whittaker notes, the profit margin on retransmission is 100 per cent.

To add to this pretty picture, the death of old-style tv advertising is much exaggerated. It works. Quite where people find the time is a mystery, but tv viewing a growing alongside logged-on hours. The awkward question is whether we’ve been here before; in the dotcom boom 13 years ago, investors went mad for any business that provided content.

The conditions look right for another round of tech-induced hysteria, but despite a share price that’s gone from 18p to 134p in five years, ITV is still modestly rated – indeed very modestly, assuming Mr Whittaker hasn’t gone completely square-eyed.

Look out Vittorio

Vittorio Colao, Vodafone’s chief executive, should be afraid, very afraid. An Aussie blogger called John Hempton is on his tail, grumbling about Vodafone’s latest European adventure, the proposal to pay an alarmingly high price for Kabel Deutschland. Actually, grumbling hardly does him justice: “I believe this is a nasty diminution of shareholder value and continues the management-board record of incompetence at Vodafone.” Not to put too fine a point on it, Mr Hempton thinks Mr Colao should go.

He has form here. The only other British CEO he’s fingered is Fred Goodwin in May 2008, when Royal Bank of Scotland was the biggest in the world by gross assets, and was still steaming strongly towards the iceberg. Voda’s expansion is rather less vainglorious, but its history of acquisition is hardly glittering.

Mr Colao has now decided that the future lies with the “quad play” of mobile, tv, broadband and telephony, but Voda is late into this game, and it would pay the latecomer’s penalty to win Kabel. The move follows the signal, last month, that Mr Colao wasn’t going to waste the latest (large but erratic) dividend from Verizon Wireless of the US on the Voda shareholders.

Many shareholders would rather he did. The stock is the mainstay of income funds, a position uncomfortably like that of RBS in 2008. Nobody expects Voda to implode, and Mr Hempton is merely another irritant. But he’s not the only one who suspects that the ultimate price for a Kabel deal is the sustainability of that lovely dividend.

Here come the big boys

As the little companies drilling for shale gas produce ever more eye-popping numbers of potential reserves, the absence of big oil has been a constant curiosity. Now Centrica, the parent of British Gas, has muscled in on Cuadrilla’s patch near Blackpool. A down payment of £40m is chump change for Centrica, but it brings technical expertise and the resources to procure the 10 different licences from four different authorities which, according to the Institute of Directors, are needed. Exploiting shale will not be quick or easy, but at least the likes of Centrica bring the financial muscle to try and do it properly – and to fix things if they go wrong.

This is my FT column from Saturday.

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