ITV reaps benefits as viewers rise and see England shine

LONDON - Even David Campese would have trouble pouring his peculiar mixture of vitriol, bile and scorn on the news coming out of the ITV Network Centre, writes Jeremy Lee.

As Woodward's men steam toward the final showdown and the opportunity to give our colonial cousins a punch on the nose this Saturday, the Rugby World Cup has supplied ITV with the scale and scope of audiences that even its most dairy product-induced dreams would find it difficult to provide.

The prediction is that the final game could draw in an average TV audience in excess of 10m and this looks distinctly achievable. After all, the crucial semi-final against France saw audiences peak near the 9m mark -- this would be considered an achievement for an ITV peaktime drama on a wet Bank Holiday weekend, let alone for sport at 9am on a Sunday.

With a massive 84% of ABC1 men watching the game, it can only be assumed that a large proportion of the other 16% followed the lead of Jonny Wilkinson's mum and sought solace in the repeat of 'To the Manor Born' on BBC2. These numbers, of course, do not include those viewers who eschewed the comfort of their sofa in favour of an early start in the pub.

Such audience figures have helped prop up ITV's otherwise pretty average autumn ad revenues with cars, beers and airlines finding an audience for their wares. No doubt they have also given ITV a much-needed shot in the arm ahead of the forthcoming merger.

Elsewhere, the broadcast sponsor Travelex has made a much better fist of its sponsorship idents than it did for last year's Football World Cup. Guinness, too, deserves credit for a clever campaign that could have fooled viewers into thinking that it was also one of the official broadcast sponsors.

Editorially, the coverage has had a slickness not always associated with sport coverage on commercial TV, and with games shown on ITV2 and the ITV News Channel, ITV seems finally to have learned a lesson from Sky. Shared coverage has proved a neater way of driving viewers to its digital channels than was ever achieved with the doomed ITV Sports Channel.

Other winners include Prince Harry, who seems to have found someone else to jackaroo for him while he enjoys beers and hugs with Woodward's wife, and the chosen agency few (or multitude, if you're MindShare) who have been selected to accompany the ITV sales wallahs.

As Carlton and Granada's sales teams prepare to face the inevitable bloodbath on their return, it's difficult to begrudge them their final hurrah -- and at a rumoured £10,000 a pop, it's unlikely we'll see junkets like this, or audiences this size, for a while.

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