BBC losing as viewers switch on to other war news

LONDON - The consumption of news has increased dramatically since the start of the Gulf war and, in a surprising development, TV audiences have been turning away from BBC for their fix of news coverage.

A significant number are turning to ITV and Sky News.

The Network Centre's decision to run a nine o'clock bulletin has proved to be shrewd -- 9.2m viewers watched Tuesday's bulletin. This was the highest average audience to an ITV news bulletin since the death of Diana, Princess of Wales.

Sky News, which is dedicating its entire coverage to events in the Gulf, is outperforming all the other multichannel news stations. On the day of the "shock and awe" bombing of Baghdad it managed a 9.2% share of viewing, while BBC News 24 took 2.9%, and the ITV News Channel 0.9%.

Sky News is consistently outperforming BBC News 24 by a ratio of three to one, and in multichannel homes some of Sky News' programmes have outperformed rival programmes shown on the terrestrial station Five.

The strength of the ITV nine o'clock news has had a knock-on effect, with later shows inheriting its audiences.

Steve Goodman, the press director of MediaCom, predicted all of the newspapers would increase circulation, with Paul Thomas, a managing partner of MindShare, naming the Evening Standard as a title expected to do particularly well. He suggested the paper's circulation had broken through the half-million mark, though this will not be known until the official ABCs.

Because of the time of the raids on Iraq, early evening has become the time to catch up with events in the Gulf.

Mark Gallaher, the press controller at Manning Gottlieb OMD, added: "I think the broadsheets will do well because people will look for the extra, in-depth analysis. But we would worry that readers would be so engrossed in the editorial that they wouldn't pay any attention to the ads."

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