Belfast Telegraph

Home-grown shows unlikely to be axed by new UTV owners ITV

By Margaret Canning

ITV is likely to "tread carefully" in how it approaches home-grown programming at UTV when it beds in as the broadcaster's new owner, it's been claimed.

In a trading update yesterday, ITV said the Rugby World Cup and popular live episodes of Coronation Street and Emmerdale had helped improve under-pressure audience figures.

The group, which is home to shows including Downton Abbey and The X Factor, said it narrowed falls in its share of Britain's television audience over the past few months.

The company announced last month that it was buying UTV's TV division, including UTV Ireland, which was launched this year, for £100m.

Despite the rugby boost and surging viewing figures for its soaps, the group's overall share of the TV audience fell 3% to 21.2% in the 10 months to October 31, although this marked a slight improvement since its half year figures, when it dropped to its lowest level for at least 15 years, at 21.1%.

But ITV boss Adam Crozier confirmed the group was on track for "another year of double digit profit growth" as revenues continue to rise - up 13% to £2.05bn in the nine months to September 30 thanks to an ongoing recovery in advertising spend.

Don Anderson, a media commentator and author of 50 Years of UTV, said ITV was likely to concentrate on "beefing up network programming rather than regional programming" in the forthcoming year, after its takeover of UTV's TV division completes.

"Network programming is where ITV makes money.

"Regional programming is where it makes little money, or even loses money.

"However, UTV is the first station that ITV has taken over where the conditions and the audience are distinctly different from those in Great Britain. It knows that - and will tread carefully for the moment, I think."

A spokesman for ITV said: "The commitment to providing strong, high quality regional news and programming that serves the people of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, via UTV Ireland, remains unchanged."

And he said reports that the broadcaster is reviving 1990s drama, Cold Feet -which provided Co Antrim actor James Nesbitt with one of his first major TV roles - were "speculative" and ITV had yet to make an official announcement.

He also refused to comment on reports that ITV is to snap up talent show The Voice UK after the BBC recently said the show had been poached by a rival broadcaster.

ITV said the Rugby World Cup was the second most watched rugby tournament since records began after it averaged 3.3m viewers, with a 23% share of the audience.

The England v Wales game on September 26 was watched by 10.4m viewers, peaking at 11.6m, making it the most watched sporting event of the year and the most watched rugby match since the 2007 World Cup final between England and South Africa.

The live episode of Coronation Street to mark ITV's 60th birthday in September was another success for the group, watched by 9.4m viewers - a 37% audience share.

Mr Crozier said "all parts of the business" had performed well over the first nine months of its financial year, adding that the outlook for 2016 was also "encouraging".

Belfast Telegraph