New regimes often give themselves 100 days to make an impact: ever
since the days of John F Kennedy this tactic has become commonplace.
The sands ran out for ITV’s new triumvirate, Richard Eyre, David
Liddiment and John Hardie this week, after the rethink which formally
began last autumn - a response to four years of failing ratings and near
mutiny by the big advertisers. The three men held meetings to reassure
ad land’s critics that the network centre was well advanced in plotting
a fight back.
But they barred journalists, preferring one-off briefings, in a daft
attempt to control the news flow. Not a clever tactic for a mass market
channel in need of the best press it can muster, pinning part of its
revival on much better marketing and programme PR, centrally
co-ordinated. So, what are we to make of the results of their
brainstorming? Well, the team has been smart, even a bit reckless, by
providing a firm target for improving audience share.
Channel 4 took nine years to reach the ten per cent share its founder
blithely predicted, while John Birt’s prediction that BBC TV would
collapse to 30 per cent by the late 1990s proved to be wildly wrong.
In the next three years the team aims to nudge ITV’s prime time share
(6pm to 10.30pm) up by one per cent a year from 38 per cent to 40 per
cent by the year 2000. Prime time is where ITV earns 70 per cent of its
income. These audience targets were the key message and talking point,
something tangible for advertisers to cling to. They will be devilishly
hard to deliver in a fracturing market, unless the BBC
That apart there is very little new in what Eyre and his team have to
say or can currently offer. Reversing the decline will depend crucially
on ITV denting the BBC by offering more tempting programmes. The recipe
Eyre and Liddiment laid out: more popular factual series, a review of
news content and current affairs, a weeding out of tired entertainment
formats and stars: all have been on the cards for months.
What really worries me about the initiative is the assumption that
talking to advertisers rather than viewers matters most. If that remains
Eyre’s strategy then I don’t see much hope. Of course they are the
But if advertisers had their way commercial minutage would be
Coronation Street would be stripped across every weekday and News at Ten
would be banished. They are not that keen on costume drama either.
The BBC scores with all the upmarket southern and younger viewers ITV
needs because its programmes have range and they run uninterrupted. Over
New Year the BBC ran The Woman in White, a fine Carlton production which
was turned down by the ITV network. No wonder ITV has both image and