Britain's largest commercial television broadcaster ITV has reported disappointing advertising sales for its flagship channel ITV 1.

According to media buyers, the channel's bookings for the first quarter of 2006, at £352 million ($617m; €515m), are down year-on-year by around 14% .

The slide is due to a weak market and a series of hard-fought negotiations in which one powerful group of media agencies, WPP-owned Group M, temporarily withheld new year ad bookings because of a terms of trade dispute.

The poor start has renewed speculation that ITV could be facing a demerger call from rebel shareholders disillusioned by its performance. The move would split ITV's production operation from the broadcasting business.

The company has struggled as advertising markets fragment and it has cast its net wider in hopes of clawing back revenues. Late last year it agreed a £120m deal to acquire Friends Reunited [WAMN: 08-Nov-06], a website which enables its 12m subscribers to trace former classmates and work colleagues.

Data sourced from The Times Online (UK); additional content by WARC staff