ITV’s woes are to do with image as well as viewers

New regimes often give themselves 100 days to make an impact: ever since the days of John F Kennedy this tactic has become commonplace.

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

real problems.

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