ITV 'likely to move current affairs out of prime time'

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MOST OF ITV's current affairs programmes are likely to be moved out of prime time to 10.30pm slots next year, except for some special reports, to maximise advertising revenue.

A change in the mix of programmes, from the start of the new franchises on 1 January, was forecast yesterday at the Edinburgh television festival by Marcus Plantin, director of programming at London Weekend Television, and Paul Jackson, programme director at Carlton Television, which takes over Thames's London weekday franchise.

But Paul Woolwich, editor of Thames's This Week, which is being discontinued by Carlton, warned that unless ITV held on to its distinctive tough and investigative programmes, the new current affairs programmes could become 'light, bright and trite', ignoring unpopular subjects.

Mr Woolwich said the present weekly hour of mandated current affairs on ITV - World in Action and This Week - attracted more viewers than all of the BBC's weekly current affairs output. He described BBC current affairs as 'dry and analytical'.

He proposed a new hour-long programme starting at 7pm on Sunday and composed of topics to interest everyone. He said this would only take up 4 per cent of peak time.

But Mr Jackson warned producers that the world of ITV would change irrevocably on 1 January. There would be a fierce fight for advertising revenue with Channel 4, satellite and probably Channel 5, the new terrestrial station. Four per cent of prime time represented advertising airtime worth millions of pounds, the difference between profit and loss for the new ITV franchise holders.

'They have to make a profit to stay in business,' he said. ITV could not afford to take a dive in ratings, even for half an hour in prime time.

The Independent Television Commission, which regulates ITV, is meanwhile insisting that the nightly news on ITV must remain within prime time and that change to a move from 10pm to 10.30pm for the main nightly news is not possible.