It shouldn't happen to a television station - ITV Saturday ratings plummet to new low

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The sun was blazing, the barbecues were smoking. On Saturday evening those with any sense went out. The rest might have succumbed to the heat and stayed in but they didn't watch ITV1, it seems.

The sun was blazing, the barbecues were smoking. On Saturday evening those with any sense went out. The rest might have succumbed to the heat and stayed in but they didn't watch ITV1, it seems.

The nation's most popular commercial channel is in the doldrums. In the first week of this month, ITV1 attracted a total share of 21.3 per cent - its lowest weekly figure. But it is on Saturdays that the network is really struggling. It came hot on the heels of ITV1's worst Saturday ratings figures, when it achieved just 16.5 per cent of the total.

So, last Wednesday, ITV's director of programmes, Nigel Pickard, stepped in to try to rescue Saturdays. Judgement Day, a quiz show hosted by Brian Conley, was axed after just three episodes. Its replacement was a show called It Shouldn't Happen to a Soap Star.

And at the weekend this show that was meant to save the day received just 2.7 million viewers - around a fifth of the audience that might tune in to Coronation Street, which goes out at around the same time on a weekday.

Broadcasting insiders point out that the low headline figure is largely explained by the good weather, which hit all networks hard. But that does not account for the fact that ITV was seen by just 20 per cent of those people who were watching television at the time.

Thomas Sutcliffe, The Independent's television reviewer, said ITV simply is not providing good programming: "If you look at the schedule, you can see they have just decided to give up." Without an early-evening "anchor" - such as Blind Date or Pop Idol - the broadcaster had no chance of improving its Saturday-night ratings.

But Chris Hayward, head of television at the media-buying company Zenith OptiMedia, said the figures are just a blip: "ITV's performance over the year has been pretty good - in the first six months of the year, its total audience reach went up by eight per cent on last year."

An insider at the network said the changes last week came out too late for the listings magazines to let viewers know. "This is a short-term summer issue," said a source. "We always know our summer Saturdays are going to be flatter so we don't put our big hitters out."

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