Media: Rise and shine for kids and couch potatoes

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The Independent Online
GMTV'S breakfast programme, a pale copy of TV-am, is getting the cold shoulder from viewers. It may not easily be unfrozen even by the common touch of the new chairman, Greg Dyke.

In the first five weeks of 1993, the new licensee's best audience on weekdays averaged 1.8 million, 600,000 below TV-am's audience a year ago, when it was already running downhill after losing its lucrative franchise.

In its heyday, TV-am's peak audience was 3 million. But at best 16 million people a week - nearly a third of the nation - saw something on TV-am. That meant more than two thirds seldom or never watched it, including a rather larger proportion of upmarket ABC1 adults.

There's the rub for GMTV: breakfast television in any guise is not very popular. The four terrestrial channels, plus a sprinkling of satellite services aimed at children, together attract 8 per cent of us at their best moments on weekday mornings. Seven times as many people watch television in evening prime time.

The old steam rival still steals the show. Figures from the first national survey of radio listening will shortly show that four times as many people listen as watch at breakfast time. Radio 1 has twice as many fans as GMTV's sofa- bound plug procession; Radio 4's Today draws twice as many as BBC 1's comparably earnest Breakfast News.

BBC 1 has held on to viewers since 1990 as TV-am shed its more serious coverage. GMTV is additionally squeezed by Channel 4's The Big Breakfast, which already captures as many child viewers and is seducing some of their mums, threatening GMTV's inherited stranglehold over pre- Christmas toy advertising.

Losing both yuppies and free- spending young families, GMTV's audience profile begins to look awkwardly like that of daytime ITV: older, poorer homes but fewer of them. Yet GMTV needs to attract more advertising revenue, having bid several times the Exchequer levy that TV-am paid for its tenure.

Competitors for the young downmarket audience are hovering around. Atlantic 252, the Irish pop radio station, rifled TV-am's northern and Midlands viewers in 1992. It will soon be joined by

Virgin's INR2, not to mention

regional commercial radio


Or can GMTV lift colour advertising from national newspapers? Tabloid readership and penetration continues to decline patchily, but school-leavers who would once have become TV-am gogglers and Sun readers now turn to The Big Breakfast (in essence 'zoo' format radio with pictures), or to Nintendo and Sega.

Since autumn 1992, thanks to The Big Breakfast, the number of children in commercial television's peak early morning audience has sharply increased, while adults have quit. If GMTV tries to prey on BBC 1, it may displease many of the middle-aged couch potatoes it inherited from TV-am, obtaining an audience whose classiness does not compensate for its reduced bulk.

In 1983, Greg Dyke raised TV-am's peak audience from 200,000 to 1.7 million in 12 weeks. He may find it hard to scrape up an extra 1.5 million viewers for GMTV in 12 years.

----------------------------------------------------------------- BREAKFAST TELEVISION AUDIENCES (millions) ----------------------------------------------------------------- First five BBC 1 TV-am/ C4 weeks of GMTV each year 1988 1.3 2.5 n/a 1989 1.3 2.4 n/a 1990 1.3 2.4 0.2 1991* 1.9 2.3 0.2 1992 1.3 2.4 0.2 1993 1.3 1.8 1.1 Monday-Friday averages in channels' best quarter hours. *More BBC1 viewing due to Gulf war. Source: BARB -----------------------------------------------------------------