ITV extends amnesty for late booking fees amid tough ad market

Ad sales decline has hit broadcaster's share price.

Love Island: ITV dropped late booking fees during the show
Love Island: ITV dropped late booking fees during the show

ITV is to axe late advertiser booking fees for another three months until the end of October as it seeks to bring in more ad revenue in a tough market.

Live coverage of the men's Rugby World Cup in Japan and a new costume drama, Sanditon, which is based on an unfinished novel by Jane Austen, are among the programming highlights on ITV in the next three months.

The Love Island broadcaster dropped late booking fees in May, June and July as ITV was facing difficult comparisons with a year ago when it had the rights to the men’s football World Cup.

ITV said it was extending the amnesty for late booking fees on all of its channels because it had a good response from "many advertisers and agencies" that "have taken advantage of the flexibility to book late" in the past three months.

The UK's biggest commercial broadcaster by advertising revenue told shareholders in May that "the continuing political and economic uncertainty" around Brexit was undermining confidence.

ITV warned that it expected advertising revenues to drop 6% in the first six months of the year despite growth of ITV Hub.

The company will update investors when it reports half-year results tomorrow (24 July).

Late booking fees work on the basis that media buyers get a discount if they book broadcast ad spots with ITV by an "advance booking" deadline about two months early and they must pay a higher price as the transmission date nears.

About 15-20% of ads are usually booked by the early deadline.

Competing with tech giants

Steven Ballinger, managing director of commercial and trading at Dentsu Aegis Network, whose clients include Co-operative Group, Diageo and Shop Direct, welcomed the temporary decision to waive penalties for later bookings.

He said: "ITV is recognising the market is tough and it is making the landscape as flexible as possible for clients."

ITV first dropped late booking fees temporarily in spring 2018 as Dame Carolyn McCall, the newly appointed chief executive, courted advertisers.

Ballinger said TV’s long-established custom of charging late booking fees contrasts with how the internet giants allow advertisers to book until the last minute without such penalties.

"Clients need as much time as possible to evaluate where they invest their money and it [waiving late booking fees] brings ITV much closer to the online platforms," he said. "TV must be able to compete on a real-time basis and this gesture from ITV does exactly that."

A source close to ITV said there is no plan to drop late booking fees on a long-term basis.

ITV has come under financial pressure in recent months as the share price has touched its lowest level since late 2012.

City analysts believe ITV’s ability to deliver mass reach means it is holding up better than some of the smaller, niche channels as audiences migrate online.

"Not all TV viewing declines are equal," investment bank Liberum Capital said in a recent research note. "The sharpest declines appear to be at the long tail of minor channels."

ITV has said this year's series of Love Island, which ends on 29 July, has been its "most successful", averaging 5.6 million viewers – with 4.2 million watching on TV and 1.4 million on "non-TV" devices.  

A Channel 4 source said it still has advanced booking deadlines, but it tries to show "flexibility".

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