Media Perspective: Advertisers will vote with their feet if ITV drama falls further

Last week there was further tragic news for ITV viewers: the broadcaster is cancelling the Robson Green vehicle Wire In The Blood. This followed hot on the heels of announcements that Heartbeat and The Royal are to be dropped from our screens and The Bill cut back from twice to once a week.

Hardly decisions that will trouble Bafta awards juries, but then these are all popular, solidly made primetime dramas that appeal to audiences. The problem for ITV, and other UK broadcasters, is that compared with studio-based fodder such as Dancing On Ice, they cost a lot to make. And that becomes an even greater problem when TV ad revenues are declining by close to 20 per cent across the board.

Advertisers should be worried, though, because there is a danger that the old, mainstream, commercial terrestrial channels increasingly lack variety; that they become filled with reality competitions and quiz shows with little on offer to attract a more diverse audience. There is an added dimension that what broadcasters are currently up to isn't good for wider diversity and cultural well-being: Wire In The Blood, for instance, was created and produced in the North-East and its cancellation could cost jobs and result in less cultural diversity on screens, but then it's not the responsibility of advertisers to worry about this.

None of this really impacts on me right now, especially as ITV has just recommissioned the excellent Foyle's War. And there's plenty of other great drama around - it just mostly happens to come from the US. Generation Kill on FX and Mad Men on BBC4 are both on air this week, for instance.

The problem for the UK TV industry is that if it is not generating its own great drama content, then it creates a Catch 22 situation where broadcasters are receiving ever-diminishing returns from ad revenue because these quality US imports are generally tucked away on multichannel and attracting small audiences or are over on the BBC.

Of course, the whole issue of content and who should pay for it is hotting up and part of the wider Government public-service broadcaster debate. But, clearly, advertiser budgets are under great pressure at the moment and the long-held media owner view that advertisers should fork out for programming and be thankful for it is going out of the window.

One MP described the axing of Wire In The Blood as "part of ITV's drive to cut costs and compete with other broadcasters on a lowest common denominator basis". A tad extreme, perhaps, but viewers can't live on a diet of entertainment shows alone and advertisers will vote with their feet if drama continues to be stripped from the schedule at the current rate.

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