This mainstay of ITV's evening schedule has got real staying power, Martin Sambrook says.

Well, you wouldn't have bet a decade ago that quaint old boring Emmerdale would go sailing on past its 30th anniversary, and brash, modern Brookside would meet its untimely end at not quite 21, no doubt to be buried under a patio in Brookside Close.

Whether you love them or hate them, the soaps on ITV have retained something vital over the years, and that's a certain charm and sense of humour.

A humour that was impossible to detect in Brookside Close, a place where property values should have plummeted considering its social and criminal record. And a single viewing of Coronation Street against EastEnders underlines this point. I have lived in the East End and life just isn't that miserable.

I confess to simply not buying into ITV as a brand. Where Channel 4, BBC and BSkyB are concerned, I can see it, but not ITV. The great key strength of ITV is its core programmes that supply the bulk of the audience that advertisers want. Viewers do not choose to watch ITV, they choose Emmerdale, Coronation Street, Blind Date, etcetera.

Which is why Emmerdale is carrying on while Brookside is demolished. None of the other commercial channels can boast the sort of reach Emmerdale has: well into double figures for good broad audiences - not something you ditch readily.

The soap's key strength is delivering these audiences in early peaktime on a consistent basis. In a fragmenting television world, those are attributes not to discard lightly.

But although it performs decently against Coronation Street for young and upmarket adults, Emmerdale can start to look a lot less effective as a mainstay of the schedule if one digs into its various sub-audiences.

But this lack of sub-group content is not necessarily a bad thing. To be simplistic, the broad audience ratings can be sold to the relevant advertisers, for example FMCGs looking for a housewife audience. That leaves room to concentrate on maximising the sale of sub-groups from better-performing programmes to advertisers that want these audiences.

But what next for the old farm? The keys to managing the development of Emmerdale are understanding how it fits into ITV's portfolio of programmes and thinking about how it can support advertisers' broader aims. For companies with a diverse range of brands, such as Unilever, that means new-product development and enriching that portfolio. That's a far bigger challenge for ITV than simply maintaining and sometimes improving the current offering.

Channel: ITV1

Frequency: Monday to Friday 7pm to 7.30pm

Average audience: Recent high is 9.7 million on 17 October (49 per cent


Advertisers include: Fairy, Eurostar, Sharwood's, Pizza Hut, Maltesers

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