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EDITIONS
 Tuesday, 7 January, 2003, 11:08 GMT
ITV's ratings poser
Only Fools and Horses
ITV rarely competes with the BBC's specials at Christmas
Nick Higham

So the BBC won the Christmas ratings war - just as it always does. The corporation's dominance over Christmas is a great British tradition even older than the Christmas edition of Only Fools and Horses.

The folk at ITV won't be unduly distressed that the BBC beat them yet again.

In truth, the network long ago gave up spending heavily to win big audiences at a time of year when there is little advertising revenue.

But ITV and its new programme director Nigel Pickard - who joins next month - will be more worried about two other ratings trends.

Nigel Pickard
Nigel Pickard takes up the ITV reins next month
The first is that BBC One, which - except at Christmas - always used to trail its old rival throughout the rest of the year, now has a consistently higher share of viewing than ITV1.

This is largely thanks to a much stronger showing during daytime, which must therefore be a Pickard priority: ITV is still comfortably ahead in peak, when advertisers spend most of their money.

The second trend is the continuing inexorable rise in digital channels' share of viewing, at the expense of the traditional terrestrial channels. Both the BBC and ITV are losing share, but ITV is losing it faster.

Multichannel high

In the past couple of weeks BSkyB has taken care to highlight several statistics.

This Christmas, for instance, the combined share of all the non-terrestrial channels for the first time outstripped ITV1.

And in the year as a whole, while BBC One's share of viewing fell just one percentage between 2000 and 2002, ITV1's fell five while multichannels' rose more than five.

In one sense these figures are all rather meaningless. As an ITV spokeswoman pointed out, advertisers can't readily buy the multichannel share of the audience, which is fragmented across scores of different services.

There is still no other channel which comes close to ITV1's mass audience.

Real Madrid win last season's Champions League
Real hope: The Champions League has boosted ITV2
But perception is important, and the perception is that ITV is struggling.

Still, it ain't dead yet. Nigel Pickard inherits a strong drama slate, with Footballers' Wives, Cold Feet, Hornblower and At Home with the Braithwaites all returning.

He also has more money than his predecessor, David Liddiment.

Next year's ITV1 budget is 836m, up from 775m this year - an increase of 100m if you strip out what ITV paid for the World Cup.

And the rise in multichannel viewing, while bad news for ITV1, is good news for its little sister ITV2.

Thanks to Champions League football and spin-offs from popular shows on the main channel like Pop Idol and I'm a Celebrity... - and thanks to the fact that it has been available on Sky Digital's satellite platform since November 2001 - ITV2 is now the fastest-growing digital channel in Britain.

The BBC's Nick Higham writes on broadcasting

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