Media: Switching on, off and over

IN ITS first six months, GMTV lost pounds 268 every minute it was on the air. Advertisers wondered about a station whose younger viewers were fleeing in droves to Channel 4's The Big Breakfast. Whatever costs are cut, ITV's early- morning company cannot be healthy until audiences rise.

In the week ended 8 August The Big Breakfast's average biggest audience from Monday to Friday was 1.3 million, on a level with GMTV's for the first time. School holidays are probably a factor, but it must still have been worrying for GMTV. Yesterday came better news - GMTV scored 1.5 million for the week ended 15 August, against 1.2 million for The Big Breakfast.

For its peak audience to be exceeded by The Big Breakfast's would humiliate ITV. It did not happen in the first 32 weeks of competition, though in seven GMTV's lead was shaved to 100,000. Its recovery is probably due to seaside roadshows and the like, aimed at keeping its audience as it prepares fresher ideas for the crucial pre-Christmas advertising period.

On weekdays GMTV is watched at least once in a typical week by 11- 14 million people, depending on the season, whereas Channel 4 attracts 7-8 million. At weekends GMTV'S children's schedule, mostly Disney cartoons, rates way ahead of Channel 4 or BBC1. Its headache (see table) is that the weekday sequence has lost more than 2 million of the viewers TV-am had a year ago.

The kinds of audience advertisers prefer, such as mothers and children, have swung to Channel 4. That leaves GMTV with an older, more masculine profile, although not a more downmarket one; all commercial morning television is plebeian.

In the past 10 years, the potential breakfast television market has expanded to about 25 million out of 53 million people. Unless GMTV can convert some of the rest, it can thrive only by poaching, or repoaching, devotees.

(Table omitted)