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Last Updated: Tuesday, 9 September, 2003, 09:08 GMT 10:08 UK
ITV starts its make-over

by Nick Higham
BBC media correspondent

Nick Higham on the changes taking place at ITV as it prepares for an uncertain future.

One of the highlights of ITV's autumn schedule is The Block, a new variation on the make-over show for Saturday peaktime, in which four couples do up identical flats: the winners are the couple who sell their flat to the highest bidder.

But ITV itself is in need of a bit of a make-over.

The network now routinely trails BBC One in audience share. It's still five points ahead of the competition in peak, according to Nigel Pickard, its new director of programmes, but ratings are sagging badly during daytime and offpeak periods.

A particular problem is the 5pm to 6pm slot, where Crossroads bombed so spectacularly.

Dale Winton
Dale Winton will front an ITV show
Pickard's solutions to that include a Dale Winton quiz, a lifestyle programme about moving house, and 24 Hour Quiz.

The latter is a cross between Big Brother and a conventional quiz show, in which contestants will be locked away in a house, answering questions around the clock in order to stay in the game, while others outside answer similar questions in an effort to get in.

The show will run in peak - but the peaktime edition will be used to promote others on ITV2 and during daytime (including 5.30pm).

However Pickard's job is made no easier by the continuing advertising recession - which means his programme budget will be pegged at the current 835m next year - and the turmoil over ITV's ownership.

Merger

The trade secretary, Patricia Hewitt, will pronounce any day now on the proposed merger between Carlton and Granada - the Competition Commission sent her its report on the merger on 21 August.

Yet even before the deal gets the political go-ahead (assuming it does) the merger process is well under way - although to the folks at Carlton it often looks like a Granada take-over.

Carlton's programme scheduling department has recently been subsumed by its Granada equivalent, for instance: the Carlton staff have moved into Granada offices or been made redundant.

The big question now is what happens to both companies' production arms in a merged operation.

Granada's programme-making division is by far the larger and stronger. At Carlton they are uneasy and fearful for their future.

There is talk of some kind of management buyout: after all, would the ITV network be happy taking three-quarters of its programmes from a monolithic in-house supplier?

'Lucrative'

And there are other questions there too. How will ITV and its in-house producer agree prices for programmes in a merged future?

And what will happen to Granada's lucrative business supplying programmes to rival broadcasters?

Would it perhaps make more sense to float off the programme-making arm as a completely separate company?

Nigel Pickard would no doubt prefer it if Carlton and Granada executives were concentrating solely on offering him the strongest possible programmes for his schedule.

But real life is rarely that simple.




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