ITV is to dispense with peak-time viewing targets and will instead guarantee a lead against the BBC as well as its position as the largest commercial viewing channel in multi-channel homes.
The decision is a departure from the existing three-year plan, set by the ITV Network's former chief executive Richard Eyre in 1998. The network has consistently failed to meet the targets set in that plan. In 1999, it missed a 38 per cent target by 0.2 per cent, while earlier this year it lowered a self-imposed target of 39 per cent to 38.5 per cent. ITV has since announced that it also expects to fall short of this revised target.
John Hardie, the commercial and marketing director for the ITV Network who is talking to agencies and advertisers about how future targets should be set, said: 'We are more likely to guarantee a lead ahead of the BBC and being the largest channel in multi-channel, digital homes.'
He added: 'We are hearing from advertisers that they want ITV to deliver big audiences for programmes in peaktime and compete against the BBC, so us being measured against the BBC may be a more appropriate currency than a share of TV.'
Jim Marshall, the chairman of the IPA's media policy group, welcomed the new targets, but said ITV needed to refocus on its overall objectives.
'When Richard Eyre set the peaktime targets, we did say we wanted ITV to concentrate on its performance against the BBC. In the past it probably tried to do too many things rather than concentrating its firepower on its main competitor.'
The BBC upped the ante for viewers recently when it decided to move its nine o'clock news forward to ten, after the Independent Television Commission had insisted that ITV move its news back from 11 o'clock to 10 o'clock by early next year.
With both channels vying for viewers with strong programme line-ups, ITV has so far triumphed with a schedule dominated by proven winners such as Who Wants to be a Millionaire?. Last week the network pulled in a 37.6 per cent peaktime share of viewers, compared with 27.6 per cent for BBC 1.