Can Maureen Duffy revive daytime ITV?

ITV has given ex-BBC marketer Maureen Duffy £16.5m to win back lost daytime viewers, but is she fighting a losing battle?

ITV has hired a former BBC marketer to lure back hundreds of thousands of daytime viewers, who have either switched off or switched over.

The appointment of former BBC controller of TV marketing Maureen Duffy as controller of ITV’s daytime programmes comes after a disastrous start to the year for ITV’s weekday schedule between 9am and 3.10pm.

In the six months ending in February, impacts for housewives with children were down by 25 per cent, and for 16- to 44-year-olds were down 23.6 per cent. They voted with their remote controls and either switched to a plethora of cable and satellite channels or switched off.

In March, the channel re-jigged its daytime schedule, which involved exchanging the morning Jerry Springer Show with the afternoon’s Trisha edition. But the daytime programmes continued to haemorrhage viewers. ITV has backtracked on the Trisha changes and moved the show back to its early morning slot, indicating that in trying to remedy a bad situation, it has actually made it worse.

To add to its problems, ITV moved controller of daytime programmes Dianne Nelmes over to documentaries, leaving daytime under the wing of programme director David Liddiment.

Duffy will enter this desperate scenario in July. She has spent 16 years as a media executive at J Walter Thompson. Duffy is described as “steely” and “fearsome”, and has never commissioned a programme in her life. She will be charged with bringing back the viewers and appeasing some of the country’s biggest packaged goods advertisers. They are livid about the daytime crisis.

Bernard Balderston, associate director for UK media at Procter & Gamble (P&G), says: “Because the packaged goods category buys significant volumes of daytime ads, it is a problem if impacts start to drop off the edge of a cliff, as they have done. They lost even more share because of the changes in March. The issue is still a cause for concern.”

Packaged goods manufacturers advertise on daytime TV proportionately more than any other category, so ITV’s performance is crucial to their ability to market products.

Advertisers, such as P&G, are mainly interested in women viewers (to sell cleaners, cleansers, dusters and other requisites of traditional housewives) who are most likely to watch daytime TV. But as Balderston points out, the increase in flexible hours, shift work and working from home means there is a greater variety of viewers, who are also buying these cleaners and dusters.

Duffy, who worked at the BBC between 1998 and earlier this year, becomes one of ITV’s nine controllers reporting to Liddiment and will manage a new programme commissioning budget of &£16.5m.

Some industry insiders speculate that ITV has forsaken its daytime viewing in favour of pouring resources into the all-important peaktime slot. This is denied strongly by ITV.

The slot has undergone one make-over, with the failed March shake-up, but brand owners continue to demand more resources to make daytime TV more watchable. The loss of Home & Away to Channel 5 means ITV is developing a replacement soap for the afternoon slot, with a lunch-time edition as well. There are plenty of cheap ways to cheer up the schedule and stop the drift to cable and satellite channels.

One insider says: “I don’t think it is worth ITV’s while inventing things for the daytime schedule as there is so much competition from satellite channels. It would be better to do deals to run some of their prime inventory in the daytime. They can make better use of multiple showings to pull in audiences.”

Duffy’s background gives her a good insight into the needs of big brand advertisers, and the way they use daytime to promote their products to housewives. But she has little knowledge of commissioning programmes, though an ITV spokeswoman says her work at the BBC gave some experience of this: “It has become clear that commissioning people need a strong understanding of their audience. There is an increasing logic to people with that background coming through.”

She points to other TV top executives who have come from a marketing background, such as Channel 4 director of strategy and development David Brook, who was previously marketing director. Others point to Dawn Airey, Channel 5 director of programming, who spent 13 years as a planner before moving into programming.

Duffy’s departure from the BBC came after she was left without a job in a scramble for marketing positions following the appointment of Greg Dyke as director general, but before he instigated his management shake-up. Jane Scott was moved to a newly-created strategic post within the marketing department – BBC Broadcast controller of TV strategy – in a move which Duffy saw as encroaching on her job.

Where controllers from more traditional TV backgrounds have failed, it is just possible that a marketer may be in a better position to identify and resolve the daytime programming crisis.

But as more cable and satellite channels go on air – this week has seen the unveiling of the Baby Channel aimed at mothers – the drift away from ITV seems unstoppable.

Trying to persuade a reluctant BBC that it needs marketing – a task Duffy is thought to have successfully undertaken – may seem like child’s play in comparison with attracting daytime viewers back to ITV.

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