ITV sets up `fighting fund' to tackle resurgent BBC

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The Independent Online

Media Correspondent

ITV is to establish a multi-million pound contingency fund which will boost the network's autumn schedule should ratings come under competitive pressure.

This comes on top of an additional pounds 10m already ploughed into the season in response to pressure from advertisers concerned about recent falls in ITV audiences and the rising cost of airtime.

The contingency fund, announced by Marcus Plantin, ITV Network director, yesterday, was agreed at a meeting of ITV company executives called a fortnight ago to discuss how they could beat renewed competition, especially from the BBC.

Unveiling ITV's new autumn schedule, Mr Plantin said the emergency cash would be deployed "as and when someone is biting at our ankles". More aggressive scheduling by the BBC, he added, had help cut ITV's traditional 10 point lead to 5 per cent in March and May. The centrepiece of the autumn schedule will be a six-part documentary series about The Beatles, which will include exclusive interviews and previously unseen archive footage left by John Lennon. ITV has also secured the rights for the UK television premiere of two "new" Beatles songs, "Free as a Bird" and "Real Love", when the three surviving Beatles will play and sing to the original John Lennon recordings. The ratings-geared schedule features 12 film premieres, including Batman Returns, The Bodyguard and Alien 3. as well as reruns of Silence of the Lambs, Basic Instinct and Die Hard 2. New drama features Nick Berry as a photographer in Paparazzo and John Hannah, late of Four Weddings and a Funeral, as the pathologist McCallum.

Simon Cox, broadcast director of the media buying agency CIA Medianetwork, the schedule was "very promising"and addressed most advertisers' concerns.