ITV pins hopes on drama serials

ITV is pinning its hopes for a ratings recovery on its long-running drama serials.

It is also planning future programming to help it attract more 16 to 34-year-old viewers, the group that advertisers and agencies have been most concerned about.

The new controller of network drama Nick Elliott, who joined ITV from the BBC in April, told the Edinburgh International Television Festival last weekend that there would be no change in the policy of concentrating on dramas such as London’s Burning, The Bill and Heartbeat.

“We are not content that ratings are falling, but the autumn season is not the best time to introduce new serials,” he said. “There has been an improvement in BBC ratings, which we knew was coming. We are just giving a wash and brush-up to our successful runs.”

Elliott said drama was planned with an eye to certain demographic needs of advertisers. “It is quite appropriate that we go looking for audiences that agencies want to put their cash around, and 16 to 34-year-olds are what we should be doing something about.”

Channel 4 director of programmes John Willis told delegates that investment of increased advertising revenues would be directed at dayparts, which in the past have been “embarrassing”.

Daytime series are being commissioned and two situation comedies are planned before Christmas. “Saturday night is a wasteland and we have to wean ourselves off American talk shows at 5pm on weekdays,” he said.

The festival was dominated by talk of “the talent” in the industry and was geared to programme makers more than chief executives.

The tone was set by Janet Street-Porter’s MacTaggart Memorial Lecture which opened the Festival with an attack on “male, middle-aged, middle-class and mediocre management”.

Street-Porter claimed the term Network Centre sounded like a sinister John Le Carré idea, unlikely to inspire creative talent.

“It’s the talent that pays our wages,” she told delegates. “People are prepared to pay the licence fee, and watch commercial television, for the programmes, so the most important people are the ones who can make what those people want to watch.”

Advertisers’ interests were represented at the fringes of the television industry. Stephen Garrett, joint managing director of Kudos Productions, told delegates his production company had decided to start its own cable channel because of the gap in provision of 12 to 20-year-old audiences.

The channel, with a working title of Brand-X, plans to launch next spring and is the brainchild of former Initiative Media chief s Adam Stanhope and Robert Ditchum, whose company Rocketscience is working with Kudos.

“Programme makers are only just beginning to understand that advertisers are interested

in minority audiences,” says Stanhope.

“That’s not coming through ITV, because over the years broadcasters have poisoned the relationship between advertisers and programme makers by using advertisers as the excuse for their commissioning decisions. They’ve used advertisers as a shield.”

Garrett told delegates that they would be surprised at some of the financial backers for Brand-X. This has led to speculation that Unilever, which revealed its programme development project last week (MW August 25) and was Stanhope and Ditchum’s main client at Initiative, will be involved with the channel.

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