MEDIA PERSPECTIVE: ITV accepts an ITC ruling and bends it just like Beckham

Another Saturday night, another ITV attempt to reinvigorate its tired peaktime schedule. Its programmers increasingly resemble Hollywood "high concept producers, trying to create new success from a conflagration of past cliches. Thus, Ant %26 Dec's Saturday Night Takeway resembles SM:TV meets Jim'll Fix It meets The Price is Right.

Sounds like a terrible recipe, but the truth is that Ant and Dec, those inoffensive Reeves and Mortimer-lite pranksters, held together the show well and produced an enjoyable hour in the 7.15pm Blind Date slot.

More interestingly for advertisers, the programme featured a new wheeze - the chance for contestants in the quiz show strand of the programme to win prizes from the commercial breaks of an ITV1 show broadcast during the previous week (Lad's Army in this case).

ITV's original plan was to offer prizes from the ad breaks during the Ant & Dec programme itself, but this was swiftly rebuffed by the Independent Television Commission. Its regulations on the separation of programming and advertising were behind its refusal to allow the initial plans.

This seemed like a shame for ITV. The concept would have increased viewer interest in the advertising around the show while generating a valuable editorial context for the brands.

As producer of the Ant & Dec show, Granada's track record in flouting ITC regulations can hardly have helped its cause. In 1994 it was fined £500,000 for disregarding rules on the promotion of products within programming during several editions of This Morning.

However, Granada didn't give up on the ad takeaway concept. It hammered out the compromise of giving away prizes from randomly selected ad breaks from one of five shows in the ITV1 schedule.

Due to the regulations there are no brand names mentioned during the programme. We knew that the eventual winner on the first show was playing for prizes including two cars worth more than £25,000 each, flights to the US and some fine cuts of meat. But no brand names were mentioned, not even images from the ads or the products themselves were shown.

So where was the benefit for advertisers? I would argue in ITV's creation of a showcase for popular advertising. From Ant and Dec's opening cry of "Don't just watch the ads, win them to each question in the quiz show referring to famous advertising, viewers were not allowed to forget the role of advertising's place in their affections.

Viewers will also watch advertising on ITV1 more intently throughout the week, becoming excited at every premium car or holiday ad shown.

Like Michael Owen tumbling in the Argentine penalty area, ITV has cunningly produced a winner for advertisers without openly flouting the rules.

- Claire Beale is away.

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