Media Perspective: ITV must freshen up its content to make itselfan easier sell

ITV's programming seems a bit under-rated to me. OK, so liking elements of its output, especially on ITV1, depends on being a soap-loving detective drama fan.

But in these days of wall-to-wall property porn on digital TV, a bit of Coronation Street and Foyle's War can be no bad thing.

Yet, unsurprisingly given some of the gaffes it has made in the past, the broadcaster continues to take something of a kicking - both in the TV trading market and in the wider world.

On the commercial side, the market is braced for yet more change from ITV with the likely departure of its director of customer relationship marketing, Justin Sampson, and a greater focus on demonstrating "return on investment" to advertisers - in other words, a harder business case.

But more recently, ITV's decisions on the programming side have come under greater scrutiny than those in the trading world, with critics arguing that it is no longer behaving like a commercial market leader.

The main charges being: first, that ITV1 has become over-reliant on a dwindling bunch of shows to deliver ratings and consequently ad revenue. Second, that it has neglected both programming and on-air talent.

Press reports have made much of ITV's apparent insistence on flogging to death ITV1 hits such as Coronation Street (five episodes a week and counting) and The X Factor, and on pushing the celebrity format into areas so remote that even a Big Brother loser would think twice before appearing.

This might be true, but you can't really blame a broad- caster that is experiencing falling audiences on its flagship channel from pushing its cash cows as far as they will go. I've yet to hear a convincing alternative strategy from its critics.

Unless, that is, you suggest that it becomes more creative in its thinking. Much, possibly too much, was made of the loss of Paul O'Grady to Channel 4, but the decision of the camp chatshow host to depart to a more flexible broadcaster (he'll only have to work half the year at Channel 4) has highlighted perceived weaknesses in ITV's capturing and nurturing of talent.

Yet a new programming structure under the director of television, Simon Shaps (with the former BBC producer Paul Jackson coming in as director of entertainment and comedy), is a bid to freshen content. While it's hard for ITV to take risks in the way Channel 4 can, it would be good to see it use ITV3 and ITV4 as a test bed for new material and for Shaps and his team to discover hits to rival Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?.

That would provide ITV's commercial director, Ian McCulloch, and his team with a more convincing sell. There's just not much sign of that at the moment.