SPOTLIGHT ON: VIEWING TRENDS: Can ITV react positively to its diminishing viewing share? [SH] Management is optimistic despite a recent review of trends, Alasdair Reid says

Last week, when Barb released the total share of viewing figures for 1996, it also published a table of viewing trends over the past five years. For ITV, the table makes sobering reading. In 1991, ITV had 41.7 per cent of all viewing - last year, its share had fallen to 35.1 per cent.

Last week, when Barb released the total share of viewing figures

for 1996, it also published a table of viewing trends over the past five

years. For ITV, the table makes sobering reading. In 1991, ITV had 41.7

per cent of all viewing - last year, its share had fallen to 35.1 per

cent.



In the same period, BBC 1 shed only a couple of percentage points to hit

the 32.4 per cent share mark, while the combined BBC 1 and BBC 2 figure

dipped by less than a percentage point over the five-year period to

record a 1996 share of 44.1 per cent.



The big growth sector is satellite, which has almost trebled its 1991

share to post a figure of 10.1 per cent last year. Channel 4 hasn’t done

badly either, edging up to just under 11 per cent.



But it is ITV’s performance against the BBC - its natural enemy and

greatest potential source of audience growth - that is so surprising.

Doubly so, given increased programme budget commitments by the Network

Centre. Has this been good money after bad?



Things aren’t about to get any easier for ITV. Channel 5, which launches

in a couple of months’ time, will seek to achieve a total viewing share

of slightly under 10 per cent. From what we already know of its

schedules, a fair chunk of that share will come from ITV.



ITV management isn’t about to start losing sleep over this. Clive Jones,

the managing director of Carlton Television, comments: ’It is perhaps

inevitable in the multi-channel environment that we will continue to

suffer a degree of audience loss. But we still hold the lead in terms of

peak audience share and there’s no reason that shouldn’t remain the

case. We still account for 40 per cent of viewing in peaktime - and that

is an important factor for advertisers.



’Let’s put this into context, too. Not so long ago, John Birt predicted

that the BBC’s combined audience share would fall below 30 per cent by

the end of the decade. It doesn’t look like happening. Fortunes can

change.



By its very nature, this business is cyclical.’



David Cuff, the broadcast director of Initiative Media, agrees. ’If

you’re spotting trends, 1991 is not a good base to start on for ITV,’ he

points out. ’Following an advertiser revolt in the late 80s, it had got

its act together and the BBC was doing terribly. The BBC had nowhere to

go but up - and it’s actually done it by raiding the ITV heartland. It’s

hardly fulfilling the BBC remit to increase choice - you could argue

that the BBC should be producing more educational programmes and far

less Noel Edmonds and soap operas.’



It won’t though - obviously it needs big ratings to justify the licence

fee. Indeed, Cuff forecasts that ITV will have a 29.8 per cent share of

viewing in 2001: ’It is in the business of managing gradual decline.



But less than 30 per cent is nothing to be embarrassed about.’



Perhaps. In the multi-channel environment, audience size translates

directly into revenue, so a continued decline in ITV viewing would be

extremely painful indeed. It could even lurch into a downward spiral,

with poor revenue performance meaning that there’s increasingly less

cash around to make audience-grabbing programmes.



Nasty for ITV - but would advertisers mind? After all, tough competition

makes for a buyer’s market.



Edward Lloyd Barnes, a director of IDK Media, points out that

advertisers value the mass peaktime audiences that only ITV can deliver.

’A continued decline in ITV’s audience share looks likely, but it’s not

at all inevitable,’ he maintains. ’The licence fee isn’t going to keep

pace with inflation and the BBC will be less able to produce the types

of programmes that command big audiences. Why shouldn’t ITV take

advantage? Competition is nice but we need a strong ITV in the

marketplace.’



Topics

Become a member of Campaign from just £45 a quarter

Get the very latest news and insight from Campaign with unrestricted access to campaignlive.co.uk ,plus get exclusive discounts to Campaign events

Become a member

Looking for a new job?

Get the latest creative jobs in advertising, media, marketing and digital delivered directly to your inbox each day.

Create an Alert Now

Partner content

Share

1 Why creative people have lost their way

What better way to kick off the inaugural issue of Campaign's monthly print offering than with another think piece on the current failings of our industry, written by an embittered, pretentious creative who misses "the way things used to be"...

Share

1 Job description: Digital marketing executive

Digital marketing executives oversee the online marketing strategy for their organisation. They plan and execute digital (including email) marketing campaigns and design, maintain and supply content for the organisation's website(s).