One positive sign is that TV advertising revenues are expected to grow between 2% and 3%, according to Starcom MediaVest executive director of buying Matt Blackborn. A high spend is expected from the financial sector and advertisers targeting men during the Euro 2004 tournament.
ITV's share of revenue is likely to drop by about 1% to 50.8%, said Blackborn, who expects Channel 4's share to be flat, while Five and Sky will experience marginal growth.
A consideration for all terrestrial channels is that the audience profiles used to measure TV viewing will change this year, as the results of the 2001 census are incorporated into BARB. This is likely to mean a drop in the young adult profile of about 3% to 4%. As a result, Blackborn said terrestrial channels may come under pressure to maintain commercial audiences in the early part of the year.
Overall he forecasts that commercial audiences will be flat year on year.
It is thought that in 2004 ITV will turn its scheduling skills and £849m programming budget on its commercial rivals as well as its old enemy, BBC One.
Channel 4 head of client and strategic sales Mike Parker believes ITV will "pump up audience at any costs" and expects it to go for soft options such as investing in daytime. Programming highlights this year will include the return of Footballers' Wives to ITV1, which will also receive a boost in June from Euro 2004.
Kevin Lygo, Channel 4's director of television, is likely to give the schedule a shake-up. Highlights will include Bollywood Star, which features the search for a British Asian to star in a Bollywood film; Regency House Party, a sequel to The Edwardian Country House; as well as the arrival of US animation The Simpsons toward the end of the year.
Nip/Tuck, a US drama about a pair of plastic surgeons, is expected to be one of the big hits of 2004, debuting first on Sky One and later in the year on Channel 4.