With pounds 50m in ad revenues at stake, ITV is pulling out all the stops to win back audiences. Andy Fry reports.
Autumn has always been the most important time of the year for ITV1.
The station generates 40% of its pounds 1.6bn annual ad revenue in the run-up to Christmas. But with ITV1's audience share down 6%-8% year on year in the first eight months of 2004, the current season (which started on 30 August) has taken on a special significance.
Unless ratings rise rapidly, ITV plc stands to lose pounds 50m next year as a result of the Contract Rights Renewal (CRR) remedy, which allows advertisers to reduce their commitment to ITV in line with any fall in audience share (Marketing, 2 September).
With so much at stake, ITV1 has raised the autumn budget for director of programmes Nigel Pickard by pounds 5m, taking the total for 2004 to about pounds 835m. Most of the extra money is being invested in heavyweight drama, high-profile entertainment and a radical revamp of the daytime line-up.
Meanwhile, ITV1's off-air marketing budget has been trebled to pounds 3m to drive viewers to key shows.
So is this enough to limit the damage being inflicted on the channel by the continued growth of digital TV? Although dramas such as Steel River Blues and Doc Martin have had good starts, and ITV is upbeat about the debuts of Parkinson and Saturday-night talent show The X Factor, the first week of the new season delivered only a 21.8% share, according to BARB, down from 24.8% in 2003. In peaktime, ITV1's share was 30.2%, compared with 34.7% at the same time last year.
To its credit, ITV is not waiting for audiences to stumble across its shows. In recent weeks, it has launched the first stage of an off-air promotional drive, with flagship shows supported in national press, on the radio and in cinemas, where ITV ran a 60-second promotion.
Controller of marketing Jo Davey argues that the scale and intensity of the activity marks a significant departure. 'In the past, we've relied more on ITV trailers and outdoor campaigns targeting light viewers in London,' she says. 'But this campaign is about bringing mass audiences to key ITV shows.'
Cynics might argue that the campaign is a one-off attempt to minimise damage to revenues as a result of CRR. But Davey says the strategy is here to stay. 'Now that ITV is speaking with one voice, we will increase off-air promotion of key shows,' she adds. 'By choosing the right shows, it should make a bigger statement about the ITV brand.'
Mark Trinder, head of marketing communications at Woolworths and chairman of the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers' TV Action Group, endorses ITV's off-air marketing. …