Page last updated at 17:04 GMT, Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Q&A: The future for ITV viewers

mmerdale, ITV logo, Coronation Street
Flagship soaps Emmerdale and Coronation Street should be safe from cuts

By Torin Douglas
Media correspondent, BBC News

ITV has reported a loss of 2.7 bn for 2008. It has announced there will be job cuts and other measures to make savings. But what does it mean for viewers?

HOW SOON WILL I SEE A DIFFERENCE AS A VIEWER?

ITV hopes you won't notice very much. Some regional news bulletins have been cut, but News at Ten will soon be on five nights a week rather than four.

ITV's idea is to protect its programmes by cutting costs in a way that won't be seen on the screen. That's why it's closing the main Leeds studio - and moving Countdown, made by Granada for Channel 4, to Manchester - because it says it can't afford to maintain two large studios in the north of England.

Even so, it is cutting 65 million off its network programme budget and that could mean more repeats.

IF ITV IS SHORT OF MONEY WILL THERE BE MORE ADVERTS?

Character from The Bill
The Bill will lose one of its two weekly hour long episodes
Selling more adverts doesn't really help. In fact it makes things worse because the more airtime there is, the less advertisers have to pay for their slots. But peak-time programmes already carry as much advertising as they're allowed.

One way ITV is getting round it is by selling sponsorship and it would also like to introduce "product placement", where companies pay for their products to be seen in programmes. Culture Secretary Andy Burnham is against that - but ITV is still lobbying the government to relax the rules.

WILL THERE BE FEWER EPISODES OF CORONATION STREET AND EMMERDALE?

Not of those programmes - because they pay their way. They get big audiences and lots of advertising even now.

But The Bill is being cut back to one episode a week, which will reduce its production costs.

ITV is looking at every possible way of making programmes more efficiently.

WHAT KIND OF PROGRAMME WILL SUFFER?
Dancing on Ice contestants
Dancing on Ice is one of the big entertainment shows doing well for ITV

It's expected that one hour a week of drama programming will be cut. Expensive dramas such as the star-laden adaptation of a A Passage to India have been cut.

Sharpe and Wire In The Blood are not expected to return. Heartbeat and The Royal are being "rested" after the current production run because lots of episodes have already been made. Arts series The South Bank Show may get fewer slots.

But middling sorts of shows could also suffer because they don't attract a big enough audience and aren't cheap enough to fill the quiet parts of the schedule.

ARE THERE GOING TO BE MORE REPEATS?

Probably - because ITV has got to make its budget go further. But repeats aren't necessarily a bad thing if they're scheduled cleverly to let people catch up with programmes they missed.

On the BBC's iPlayer and the ITV Player every programme is a repeat, and people don't complain about that.

Michael Grade has said he will try not have too many repeats in peaktime.

WHAT WILL HAPPEN TO MY LOCAL NEWS?

Some regional news bulletins have been dropped during the day and ITV is rationalising bulletins in England and the Scottish Borders from 17 separate programmes to nine.

Ofcom has acknowledged that the current way of funding regional news isn't working and is looking to new companies - such as Reuters, ITN and regional newspaper groups - to see if they can help fill the gap.

HOW WILL IT AFFECT ITV'S RIGHTS TO SHOW SPORTS?

Sports rights are expensive - but can be worthwhile because they draw a large male audience which is attractive to advertisers.

ITV1 is now concentrating on football, having dropped Formula 1 and the Boat Race. It has denied reports that wants to renegotiate its FA Cup deal with the Football Association but says it has asked if the payments can be spread more evenly.

WILL ITV HAVE TO CLOSE ITS DIGITAL CHANNELS?
Paris Hilton
Paris Hilton's British Best Friend and Gossip Girl both air on ITV2

Unlikely. This is ITV's way into the multichannel world, where viewers can find niche channels tailored to their interests, such as sport, business, music and documentaries.

Advertisers like niche audiences too because they can target their commercials to them.

ITV2 attracts younger audiences and ITV3 earns money by showing ITV's classic drama programmes.

REALITY SHOWS ARE CHEAP AND GET BIG AUDIENCES - WILL WE SEE MORE OF THEM?

Some reality shows are hits - but there are a lot of copycat shows. ITV will certainly hope to have some more reality successes but its track record is better in big entertainment shows.

WHAT WILL ITV LOOK LIKE IN FIVE YEARS' TIME?

That is a question everyone is asking, not least the government, which is preparing a Digital Britain report to look at how Britain can preserve - and build on - the best of its television, radio and internet content in the digital age.

ITV and Channel 4 are both likely to look very different - probably with new owners and fewer staff. But no one can predict that far ahead with any confidence.

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