ITV audience falls to lowest share in 45 years

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The Independent Online

ITV won a smaller share of the television audience last week than at any time in its 45-year history, attracting just 25.7 per cent of viewers.

ITV won a smaller share of the television audience last week than at any time in its 45-year history, attracting just 25.7 per cent of viewers.

In another blow, the channel announced that "for technical reasons" it was postponing a two-part drama, Where There's Smoke, due to start this Sunday. Instead of scheduling a repeat in its place, executives decided to show a new Midsomer Murders, a jewel in ITV's crown.

Bosses at other channels were surprised at the decision. "Normally it would be regarded as madness to show a top drama like that with no proper billing or pre-publicity," a BBC executive said. "But we think they are desperate not to let the ratings drop on Sunday night, when we are showing our new Joanna Trollope series, Other People's Children."

ITV denied yesterday that its move was a desperate measure in response to poor overall audience figures. A spokesman said: "ITV audiences expect quality drama and that is what we are going to give them."

Where There's Smoke stars Zara Turner as a woman who advertises on the internet for a sperm donor, but learns from the police that the father of her child is mentally unhinged. The ITV spokesman said the problems were purely technical and the programme would be shown later in the year.

ITV's share of peak time viewing is also falling, to 32.5 per cent last week against 39 per cent through last year. The slide means executives are unlikely to meet annual targets.

Zenith, a media buying company, said: "ITV is supposed to be delivering 38.5 per cent share in peak this year, but no month between January and July actually hit this."

Channel 4 said the Big Brother show, alongside strong viewing figures for Test cricket, had produced its best viewing share of 13.3 per cent, up from 10.6 per cent a year ago.

ITV insiders pointed out that BBC1, too, is finding it hard to hold audiences, with last Friday's prime-time figure at a record low of 19 per cent. The longer-term picture also shows decline; last month ITV and BBC1 together had 53 per cent of viewers, against 80 per cent in 1989 and 70 per cent in 1995.

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