Things have become so bad at ailing British television network ITV that it is leaking bad news to repair the damage caused by even worse news.

The bad tidings in question are that ad sales for February and March are expected to fall by 3% and 7% on the respective months last year.

These internal figures, leaked to, may limit the damage caused to the share prices of ITV’s two major shareholders – Carlton Communications and Granada Media – by a more downbeat assessment of the network’s outlook from Merrill Lynch analyst Neil Blackley.

In his report, Blackley argued revenues at the two companies had taken “a further turn for the worse”, predicting falls in ad sales of 6% for February and 10% for March.

However, late bookings from The Guardian, Tesco and music and movie mammoth Universal are thought to have helped lift advertising income, contributing to the less pessimistic vibrations emanating from ITV.

Moreover, the scale of the March decline is slightly misleading, as the same month last year was boosted by an early Easter. This year the peripatetic holiday – which attracts adspend from confectionery makers and retailers – falls in April, when revenues are expected to be up year-on-year.

Nevertheless, conflict in Iraq could change everything. Warned one ITV insider: “If bombs start to drop then there will be cancellations across the entire industry.”

• Separately, Carlton and Granada have taken steps to prevent any further damaging publicity connected with their former jointly owned dTV platform ITV Digital.

This attracted a stream of bad press for the duo last year, even after it went out of business. The latest fiasco involved ITVd’s liquidator, Grant Thornton, trying to charge almost one million former subscribers £39.99 each ($64.20; €60.25) for the set-top boxes they received free when signing up [WAMN: 12-Dec-02].

However, Carlton and Granada seem to have decided enough is enough, agreeing to pay almost £3 million for the devices. Consumers who have already paid the fee will be refunded.

Data sourced from: multiple sources; additional content by WARC staff