Piers Morgan leaves ITV after row over Harry and Meghan ratings hit

More than half of TV viewers tuned in to highly publicised 'tell-all' Oprah interview.

ITV: Interview was a hit, especially with younger viewers (Image: Getty)
ITV: Interview was a hit, especially with younger viewers (Image: Getty)

ITV’s broadcast of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s interview with Oprah Winfrey drew an audience of 12.4 million viewers on Monday night, according to overnight figures.

The fall-out from the interview played out on ITV's screens the following day as Good Morning Britain anchor Piers Morgan spectacularly walked off set on Tuesday morning, after fellow presenter Alex Beresford called Morgan’s own treatment of Markle into question.

Morgan had stated on the show that he did not believe Meghan when she said in the interview she had experienced suicidal thoughts.

Speaking on a journalists' call for ITV's annual results on Tuesday morning, chief executive Dame Carolyn McCall would not be drawn on the company’s response to Morgan’s walk-out and, at 6pm, ITV said in a brief statement that he had exited.

"Following discussions with ITV, Piers Morgan has decided now is the time to leave Good Morning Britain," the broadcaster said. "ITV has accepted this decision and has nothing further to add."

The ratings for the Harry and Meghan interview was ITV's biggest peak audience since the 2019 Rugby World Cup Final and the biggest on any channel outside government, pandemic-related announcements since the Strictly Come Dancing final on BBC One in December.

Media buyers told Campaign the early viewing figures are bigger than estimated and mean advertisers that bought 30-second spots during the two-hour show paid about £120,000. 

This is at the upper end of estimates revealed by Campaign on Friday, when ITV was offering £70,000 to purchase ads as a “special buy”. However, advertisers that bought as a one-off would expect to pay six figures if the show’s ratings hit key demographics, namely housepersons with children.

ITV said at its results it was expecting ad revenue to jump by between 60% and 75% in April, after total ad revenue fell 11% in 2020.

ITV reportedly paid around £1m to obtain the exclusive UK rights to air last night’s broadcast. McCall confirmed the broadcaster “expects to cover the cost of the programme” but would not comment further.

While some advertisers may have bought ads during the broadcast as a special one-off purchase, the ad breaks also included brands that had longer-term deals with ITV and were already booked within ad breaks between 9pm and 11pm. 

However, ITV said the programme, in which Winfrey interviewed the Duke and Duchess of Sussex in a heavily publicised “tell-all”, did especially well with younger viewers – a boost for linear television.

Four out of five viewers aged 16 to 34 watched the show, ITV said, with a 83% peak (2.5 million) and 71% average (2.1 million). This was the biggest 16 to 34 TV audience for overnight viewing, outside of news programming, since a broadcast of I’m a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here! last year.

Overall, the broadcast was viewed by more than half of people watching television across the UK at that time with an average audience of 11.1 million and 54% share between 9pm and 11pm. 

Anticipation around Oprah With Meghan and Harry also helped ITV achieve strong performances across daytime TV.

Good Morning Britain, which averaged 1.2 million and hit a 1.8 million peak, recorded its highest viewers since 4 November, after the US election.

Morgan's comments about Markle were controversial given ITV's own support for mental health issues during the pandemic, including a Britain Get Talking campaign.

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