‘New ITV’ turns tide and sets ambitious course

ITV has turned around its fortunes through improved branding, imitating the BBC’s factual programming and spending heavily on sport, John McGeough reports

In the past, comparisons were often made between “New ITV” and New Labour. For both, things could only get better. The “ITV 2000” presentation last week, like the Labour conference the week before (right, that’s the end of the New Labour analogies), showed ITV in a confident mood.

Of the figures quoted, one in particular struck home. John Hardie claimed that if the rate of decline in ITV’s peak-time viewing share had continued from what is was in 1997 until the present day, this year it would would stand at 35 per cent. With this in mind, the 39 per cent share expected for 1999, and ITV’s 40 per cent target for 2000, represent a truly significant achievement.

The programming revealed seemed to promise more of the same. This is not necessarily a conservative, or negative, assessment.

The major changes, such as moving the News at Ten, investing heavily in sports coverage and introducing popular factual programming at peak times, have already happened. The aim next year is to optimise the schedule in order to reach the ambitious peak target.

Lots of established dramas and famous names were present; A Touch of Frost, London’s Burning, and so on, will all be there. John Thaw has a new drama, Monsieur Reynard, while Robson Greene will have two new ones.

The rehabilitation of The Bill will continue with a spin-off series for detective Burnside. This appeared particularly popular.

ITV director of programming David Liddiment made much of the success of ITV’s factual output – the station having shown four out of five of most popular factual programmes this year.

It is a fact that much of this programming seems to have been influenced by BBC shows. However, if ITV can do it, and do it successfully, no one has real cause for complaint.

The importance of sport, especially football, was evident from the pop star-like reception given to Des Lynam. Could it be that, with Lynam at the helm during next year’s European Championship finals, ITV will beat BBC in a head-on fight?

A major part of the presentation dealt with the success of Who Wants to be a Millionaire? As an example of the success of New ITV, it cannot be bettered. Presenter Chris Tarrant made the valid point that it was the boldness shown in scheduling the show on consecutive days that made it such a phenomenon.

Hardie revealed a new “branding” device for 2000, whereby all local station logos will be linked with the ITV symbol. Much was also made of the use of the heart logo in all marketing and promotional work. The intention is clearly to promote the ITV brand, perhaps eventually diluting the regional perception many consumers and advertisers have of the station.

ITV chief executive Richard Eyre ended with a plea for continued support from advertisers and agencies. For now, he and his team have earned that.

John McGeough is broadcast director at Manning Gottlieb Media

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