The BBC has accused ITV of “dirty tricks” in Monday night’s historic ratings battle after the commercial broadcaster axed the 10pm ad break between Who Wants to be a Millionaire? and The Frank Skinner Show.
But ITV has hit back, pointing out that BBC started One Foot in the Grave three minutes early at 8.57pm to stop viewers switching to Millionaire. An ITV spokeswoman says this is a common tactic for commercial channels.
Monday was the first night of the new BBC1 schedule shifting its main nightly news to 10pm. ITV and BBC1 both screened top rating shows at 9pm, in an attempt to hold onto viewers for the contested slot.
At 9pm, ITV showed a one hour version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire? against BBC1’s half hour One Foot in the Grave followed by The Royle Family.
ITV took the unusual step of axing the ad break between Millionaire and The Frank Skinner Show to stop audiences from switching over to watch the newly scheduled 10pm news on BBC1. It increased ad breaks in Millionaire from two to three, in line with new Independent Television Commission rules brokered in the deal with ITV to return a 10pm news programme next year to the commercial channel.
A BBC spokeswoman says: “This was a cynical ploy to stop viewers from finding the (BBC) news at 10pm. If they overrun by five minutes, viewers think they have missed the news headlines. ITV clearly planned it in advance.”
But an ITV spokeswoman says: “It was no more than scheduling tactics – advertisers expect us to use all the tactics we can. Our pledge to advertisers is to manage our junctions as effectively as possible.”