ITV is working hard to act as a network and its autumn schedule includes measures designed to combat the improved performance of the BBC

What do rain and ITV commercial impacts have in common? We haven’t seen much of either recently.

Unfair? Well, in ITV’s case there have been lots of impacts about but, crucially, not as many as in 1993 or 1994.

The result of showing 14 year-on-year minuses out of the past 20 weeks (with another four weeks only even) has been to declare “open season” for criticism and calls for change. Never has the love/hate relationship between demander and supplier been more apparent.

So what has happened to ITV this year, and is a ratings monsoon forecast for the autumn?

The single most important catalyst in the year-on-year decline in ITV audiences has been the improved performance of the BBC. In a nutshell, good old Auntie, having spent a couple of years slouching in a bath-chair waiting to pass away, has discovered a zest for life again. Sometimes by accident and sometimes by design, the BBC seems to get back on its feet.

This revival is very annoying for those of us caught in the commercial fall out. But before anybody starts moaning about why the Beeb was allowed to recover, bear in mind that

the BBC channels’ perfor mance can only be described as average considering their resources.

The turnaround also shows the BBC’s performance across 1993 to 1994 to have been a minor shambles. Remember that it was not so long ago that BBC1 was showing Eldorado and Wogan as part of its peak-time schedule.

By scheduling populist programmes such as How Do They Do That?, Animal Hospital and This is Your Life in an assault on the pulp TV mass audience in early peak-time, it has managed to put significant pressure on ITV opposites, particularly The Bill.

Not forgetting The National Lottery: let’s just say the decision to award it to the BBC was plainly unfair.

Then there’s the 22.40 slot on weekdays. For an ITV Network made up of regional franchise holders, the problem has always been about getting the balance right between honouring franchise commitments and generating ratings. This weakness has been exploited by all the other channels through the clever use of films and imports, which don’t have to cost a fortune to compete in this slot.

The ITV autumn schedule, unveiled a couple of weeks ago, includes measures to fight some of these audience-grabbing tactics. The Bill will receive a minor face lift, as will Network First.

ITV is working hard to act as a network. This will hopefully iron out some inconsistencies in scheduling and strengthen promotional activity. The autumn will also see many old favourites return to our screens: Cracker, Morse, Gladiators, Baywatch and Blind Date, as well as a very fit looking set of films.

Don’t hold your breath for that monsoon, but we do predict some heavy showers.


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