ITV adds £57m to next programming budget

ITV's shareholders have increased ITV1's programming budget for next year by 7 per cent. The decision follows the announcement last week that Carlton and Granada have permission to merge.

ITV has committed £849 million to ITV1 for the financial year up to September 2004, compared with £792 million up to September 2003.

However, critics have said ITV is not comparing like with like and has changed the way in which it calculates its annual programming budget.

Its full-year programming budget for 2003 is £836 million and observers have suggested that its full-year programming budget for 2004 is unlikely to be 7 per cent higher.

Some of the additional £57 million will be channelled into new shows for the 10pm to 10.30pm slot that is being vacated by News at Ten after the decision to give it a permanent slot at 10.30pm.

In entertainment and comedy, new and returning commissions include Ant and Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway, Nick Park's animated series Creature Comforts, Frank Skinner's first sitcom Shane and the reality series I'm a Celebrity ... Get Me Out of Here!.

In drama, Prime Suspect and Foyle's War return and new factual shows include Holiday Showdown, by the makers of Channel 4's Wife Swap, and a natural history series Jungle.

Despite its increase in programming budget, ITV1 still lags behind that of BBC1, which was allocated £858.9 million for 2003.

Charles Allen, the chief executive designate of ITV, said: "We have to make clear our commitment to shaping a stronger ITV delivering high quality television to viewers and advertisers. With greater programme investment than any other commercial broadcaster in Europe, ITV1 has the resource to deliver a winning schedule for the future."