The new UK television audience measurement system introduced by the Broadcasters' Audience Research Board has thrown the tiger among the pigeons – recording a shock 25% fall in viewing of the ITV1 network’s flagship channel. Also, in January to date, British adults watched 13.5% less TV across all commercial channels than in January 2000.

Channel 4, more obsessed with the ‘yoof’ market even than its rivals, fared worse yet, its share of the lucrative 16-34 age group apparently in freefall by 38%.

The stock market’s Pavlovian tendency reacted predictably to the apparent trend. But after diving 4% Thursday Granada Media’s share price recovered partially, up 2.5% to £1.315 at 10.45 GMT Friday, while Carlton Communications rose 3% to £2.2775.

BARB changed its measurement system as of January 1 [WAMN: 04-Jan-02] - its first major upgrade in a decade - although teething problems meant that next-day figures for New Year’s Day and the rest of the week were not released.

Claiming there had been insufficient time to check the data properly, BARB held back from publishing year-on-year comparisons until January 16, although it is not expected that all data will be available and back on schedule until Tuesday 22 January.

Meantime, the agency rent-a-quote pack was in full cry, predicting that the days of ITV1 as a mass-market broadcaster were fast running-out: “The time will soon be here when ITV is no longer the benchmark against which all advertising is sold and it needs to recognise that fact," said an unnamed ‘senior media agency figure’.

Quoth another anonymous pundit: “[ITV] should consider forgetting about youth and focus on its core audiences such as slightly more upmarket women and the older demographic.”

But as one unidentified brand owner observed: “While [ITV] is squabbling with the BBC over peak-time share, it is getting overtaken in many of the major demographics by multichannel television. We don't buy advertising on BBC so we're not particularly interested in who has the biggest peak-time share. What we're interested in is audiences.”

The whole brouhaha was brought back into the real world by one of the few media pundits willing to attach his name to his opinions, Zenith Media’s Jamie West: “It's too early to draw conclusions but there's no doubt ITV has its problems,” he said. “It's telling us that it’s saving its blockbusters for later in the year and it remains to be seen if that's the case.”

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