Zenith Puts In Oar as ITVd Bleeds 3,000 Subscribers Daily

22 April 2002

As is the way with publicity-eager pundits, Zenith Media, the UK’s largest media buyer, has not stinted with its unsolicited advice to TV giants Carlton Communications and Granada Media, parents of the moribund ITV Digital.

The advice, in as many words: “Put it out of its misery.”

The agency’s periodic Zenith on Media report, advises ITV’s dominant duo to dump their cash-haemorrhaging offspring ITV Digital and focus on making audience-grabbing shows for their flagship channel ITV1.

This, opines Zenith, is in danger of being overhauled in the ratings rat race by publicly-owned BBC1 and rival commercial channels. Advertisers, it warns, could plough their pounds into other commercial broadcasters such as Channel 4, Channel 5 and Sky One unless the rot is stemmed.

Says the report: “ITV Digital was a new economy money pit, which ITV had to fill while its old economy business was slumping. This was a rare misfortune.”

Referring to the ratings gains by BBC1: “[The BBC] is turning last year’s fluke into this year’s habit, beating ITV1’s all-time share 25.3% to 24.9% in the first quarter. And in peak, ITV’s lead over the other commercial channels is closing fast. A year ago, ITV’s peak share was 37% to 27% (for other commercial channels). Now it is 32% to 31%.

“[The phrase] ‘managing decline’ is usually dismissed as defeatist talk,” Zenith said, “but this is decline.”

“ITV has vast resources of audiences and goodwill – football fans possibly excepted – which deserve proper husbandry. Let us accept that ITV is not immortal and concentrate instead on quality of life. This means popular free to air programmes. Distractions will reduce quality and shorten life.”

Meanwhile, in the Carlton/Granada/ITVd bunker, executives are asking themselves if things can get any worse? It was revealed Friday that the besieged digital platform is losing three thousand subscribers daily – 90,000 monthly – since it reneged on its £178.5m Football League TV rights deal.

However, Monday’s press consensus is that a cloud no bigger than a man’s hand appeared on the horizon over the weekend and that the League could be about to accept a revised offer from Carlton/Granada, thereby reprieving ITV Digital.

But informed onlookers believe that even if a deal is concluded, the platform is unlikely to survive in its original form. Possible buyers waiting in the wings include Stephen Grabiner, former chief executive of ITVd, now a venture capitalist with Apax Partners. He and his brother Michael are thought likely to head a consortium to buy into ITVd alongside Carlton and Granada [WAMN: 9-Apr-02].

Data sourced from: MediaGuardian.co.uk; additional content by WARC staff