Advertisers hit out after ITV overhaul

P&G and ISBA warn ITV that viewing slump could herald advertiser walkout.

Advertisers are hitting out at ITV in the wake of a major shake-up of its commercial operations, the latest casualty of which is the managing director, Mick Desmond, who was forced out this week.

Advertisers and media buyers were shocked at the upheaval, which comes only weeks before the autumn trading season. Desmond's departure comes hot on the heels of that of the sales chief, Graham Duff. Both were seen as key bridge-builders with the commercial community.

Desmond has been replaced by the ITV Broadcasting chief operating officer, Ian McCulloch (who becomes the commercial director), and the Granada chief, Simon Shaps, who becomes the director of television.

At the same time, Procter & Gamble's associate director, Bernard Balderston, warned: "When it comes to the negotiating rounds at the end of the year, if audience figures don't improve, there will be a considerable amount of money up for grabs - money that will probably move out of ITV and into other stations."

This view was echoed by ISBA's director of media and advertising affairs, Bob Wootton. "Advertisers targeting younger demographics have already migrated significantly," he explained.

These comments come in the week that advertisers celebrated ITV's 50th anniversary by paying tribute to its ability to build brands.

According to Barb, ITV1's audience share is down by 6.3 per cent for the 12 months to September and by 14 per cent among 16- to 34-year-olds.

Balderston added: "While everybody accepts ITV has to experiment with formats and ideas, overall the quality of the product it is putting on screen, and its scheduling, have not been as good as they should have been this year."

Charles Allen, ITV's chief executive, said: "Our strategy is to give advertisers the opportunity to advertise across a family of channels."

- Comment, page 48.