Grade optimistic about recovery as ITV profits set to fall

LONDON - Michael Grade, the ITV chairman, will tell investors this week that ITV is on the road to recovery despite a sharp fall in pre-tax profits, which reflects its poor programming record last year and the weak advertising market.

Grade, who has now been at ITV for two months since jumping ship from the BBC, will say that he is optimistic about ITV's prospects as it sets about improving its programming line-up, according to reports.

ITV has started to invest in quality drama including its upcoming Jane Austen Season with dramatisations of the 'Persuasion', 'Northanger Abbey' and 'Mansfield Park'.

Former 'Doctor Who' actress Billie Piper plays the role of Fanny and ex-'EastEnders' actress Michelle Ryan, the role of Maria Bertram, in 'Mansfield Park'.

ITV has also done well with some of its more recent programming such as 'Dancing on Ice' and its 'Doctor Who' competitor 'Primeval'. The reality show has regularly pulled in more than 8.5m viewers, while the dinosaur-chasing scientists have attracted audiences of around 6m.

Analysts are forecasting that ITV will report pre-tax profits of about £350m for 2006, down sharply on 2005's £452m.

ITV1 has been hard hit by the falling advertising market in the UK over the last year. The coming year is also set be tough for ITV1. Ad revenues in the first quarter of 2007 are expected to be down by 10%.

Shares in ITV were down 1.6% this morning to 107.25p from Friday's close of 109p.

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