Spirits raise ITV inflation levels

Declining ITV audiences and the arrival of spirits ads could further fuel TV airtime inflation.

If the media world was dominated by newsprint price rise stories in the first six months of this year, it is beginning to look as if the second six months will be dominated by concerns about TV airtime inflation.

Last week’s news that spirits advertisers are starting to cancel Christmas poster campaigns with an eye to moving their media spends onto TV (MW June 9) is bad news not just for poster contractors, who stand to lose about 8m in the final quarter of the year, but also for an already squeezed TV marketplace.

The spirits brands will be joining car advertisers, who have moved their money to the autumn to support a number of launches. Both will be competing for the same young, upmarket male audience – share of which ITV has been losing during the first half of the year.

While ITV’s overall adult audiences fell by eight per cent in April – and six per cent back in March – the drop-off for certain demographic sub-groups in some regions was as much as 15 to 20 per cent. The combination of falling audience levels and increased demand could lead to hyper-inflation of about 25 to 30 per cent.

O&M Media TV buying director Alan James says: “They (ITV) haven’t got a loyal audience anymore. They can’t seem to promote themselves as a brand in the way that Channel 4 and BSkyB have”.

Other agencies believe that Granada and Carlton’s manoeuvrings for control of ITV are at the heart of the stations problems. “The battle to get the last series of Prime Suspect on LWT and Carlton is just one example of how sensible programming may be going to the wayside, while the big two play their great game,” says one media director.

ITV’s audience has also been reduced because of improvements made by Channel 4 and BBC2. The two niche channels have picked up pre-peak and post-peak audiences, leaving ITV’s viewing figures in March and April down 17.1 per cent year-on-year in the pre-peak day-part and 18.9 per cent in post-peak.

This will inevitably lead to increased pressure from ITV to move News at Ten to a new slot.

But James does not believe spirits brands alone will have enough money to cause widespread TV inflation, except for beer and other alcoholic product advertisers. “If they all crowd into the same day-part – after 9pm – then there will be a squeeze on airtime, but it may be just enough to save ITV’s November and December. They have been a disappointment for the last two years,” he says.

Media Centre deputy managing director Chris Locke says: “The effect may simply be to bring the market up to what agencies have been predicting. The market is always over-estimated for the last quarter. Planning costs will, for once, become a reality.”

TV buyers contend that although an increased demand from advertisers will fuel some of this year’s TV inflation (demand is predicted to be ten per cent higher than last year) it is the effect of reduced audiences that will cause the greatest problems.

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