Increasingly beleaguered British commercial television network ITV has a new headache: prime-time ratings over seven days dropped below the crucial 30% threshold for the first time – ever.

The network, which often attracts 60% of the TV audience for programmes such as flagship soap Coronation Street, last week registered an average viewing share of 29.5% between 6pm and 10.30pm (the Independent Television Commission’s official definition of peak hours), well down on last year’s figure of 35.3%.

The failure of the network’s new prime-time schedule to attract viewers will do it no favours in the current weak ad market. However, ITV argued that “advertisers don’t take any notice” of the official peak hours. The network considers peak time to be from 7pm to 10.30pm, during which it attracted a share of 30.5% last week. Even so, this is still well below the time-slot’s 37.1% average last year.

One ITV insider dismissed the figures, blaming them on the chaos following the devastation in America. “The schedules and ratings are all over the place after the events in the US,” said the informant, “so it is difficult to treat this as a long-term trend.”

Ad industry figures implored ITV not to cut programming budgets to bolster finances as ad revenues tumble. “We fear ITV will cut back on the schedules in order to save money,” commented Paul Parashar, director of screen trading at media buying shop PHD. “However, we need to be reassured it is committed to the schedules. They should be the last thing ITV cuts in terms of investment.”

News source: MediaGuardian (UK)