ITV's pledge to maintain a peaktime viewing lead over BBC1, although welcomed by the advertising industry, has provoked criticism that the network's audience target is too soft.
To set its target, ITV has used its peaktime audience average over the past five years, which is 7.4 points ahead of BBC1. However, since the launch of its aggressive schedule last autumn, its ratings lead has risen to more than 11 points.
John Hardie, the commercial and marketing director for the ITV Network, said: 'Our mission for next year and beyond must be to keep above this level. This is the main goal - it is the measure we will look at day in, day out, to assess performance.'
Andy Smith, a managing partner of Zenith Media, said: 'An average of the past five years seems a soft target, given ITV's performance of more than 9 per cent for last year. But I'm happy with the commitment to maintain a lead over the BBC - the bigger the lead, the more people watching commercial TV.'
Another TV buying head said: 'I'm a bit disappointed. All ITV's targets are eminently achievable - and all our jobs are about stretching ourselves to meet targets.'
ITV has said it will maintain its status as the 'biggest channel in digital', despite concern from some advertisers that it is absent from Sky Digital's main platform. But Steve Morrison, the chief executive of Granada Media, said: 'Unless something strange happens, I can't imagine we won't be on it by the end of 2001.'
Other ITV targets include improving daytime programming and sustaining delivery of 16- to 34-year-old viewers, as well as ABC1 audiences.
Ian Twinn, the director of public affairs for the advertising body ISBA, said ITV's aims 'address our concerns'.