Last year ITV increased its audience share, improved its audience
profile, lengthened its lead over the competition and - warms my cockles
this one - delivered record revenues to its shareholders.
So what should we make of the channel’s announcement last week that it
is reducing this year’s peak-time audience targets from 40 per cent to a
more modest 38.5 per cent?
Sure, 40 per cent was ambitious but it got ITV into the headlines and
sent out a strong signal that the Network Centre was trying very
But those canny digital boys have done pretty well over the past year,
and ... well, we tried, chaps, but let’s be realistic now.
Which the industry, for the most part, is being. The TV buyers all knew
40 per cent was pissing in the wind, and the revision is not without
The new targets recognise the growth in multi-channel television - not
something that should have caught anyone by surprise but which has been
rocket-fuelled by the decision to give away free digital set-top boxes
So it’s OK to rein in performance guarantees, everyone accepts that
grudgingly. But it’s only OK as long as ITV is also doing everything it
can to defend itself against audience erosion from the digital
No-one would argue that ITV, under Richard Eyre, has rested easy. The
channel has overhauled its commissioning, scheduling and marketing
strategies, and it has finally developed a real relationship with its
All of which have helped ITV meet its previous audiences targets, more
But there is a clear barrier to growth which ITV, or rather ITV’s
owners, have wilfully erected: the refusal to place ITV on the digital
It seems ridiculous for ITV to blame its failure to meet its targets on
multi-channel television while, at the same time, refusing to try to
limit the damage by sleeping with the enemy.
The reasons for ITV’s absence from the digital satellite platform are
obvious. ITV’s Carlton and Granada are shareholders in ONdigital, the
rival digital terrestrial system. And digital ITV is one of the biggest
USPs for ONdigital, whose other bespoke channels are, let’s face it,
about as entertaining as a John Billett report.
But digital satellite penetration is now approaching two million homes,
all of which have to switch out of their electronic programme guides and
revert to boring old analogue terrestrial for ITV. Many can’t be
bothered and are finding that life without ITV really isn’t that bad;
ITV’s audience share in digital satellite homes is now down to less than
24 per cent.
All of which now makes the job of the Network Centre chief executive so
difficult and, perhaps, explains why the rumoured shortlist for Eyre’s
replacement is pitifully lean and predictable.