Henry VIII - Press Archive - Budget freeze setback for new ITV boss
25 Aug 2003
Budget freeze setback for new ITV boss
By Matt Born
ITV's attempt to compete financially with BBC1 has been put on hold after
its new boss disclosed that the programme budget would not be increased.
Nigel Pickard, ITV's new director of programmes, said his shareholders plan
to give him £835 million for programming next year - the same as this year.
That compares with BBC1's budget of about £1 billion.
The admission is a significant setback to ITV and its attempt to reclaim
the crown as the most popular channel. However, Mr Pickard said he was
"comfortable" with the budget and insisted that his efforts to revive ITV's
fortunes would not be significantly hampered.
BBC1 overtook its commercial rival as the most watched channel about
two years ago as ITV was hit by the advertising recession.
ITV's shareholders injected an extra £100 million into the programming
budget last year in an apparent statement of their determination to match
the BBC1's spending pound for pound.
But that strategy appears to have stalled amid a continuing slump in
advertising. The uncertainty over the network's ownership is also a factor:
a proposed merger between ITV's two main shareholders, Carlton and Granada,
is awaiting regulatory approval.
Speaking at the Edinburgh Television Festival yesterday, Mr Pickard said he
was confident that he would be able to turn around ITV's fortunes.
The former BBC executive acknowledged that the channel had suffered a
number of high-profile flops over the past year, among them Crossroads,
Reborn in the USA and the dating show Mr Right. But he said the
prime-time schedule was "in pretty rude health".
Mr Pickard, who took over the network in February, said that his priority
was to improve daytime programming and he announced two new quiz shows.
The first, I'm the Answer, will involve contestants having to guess the
correct question to an answer they have been given.
The second, 24 Hour Quiz, is an endurance quiz show in which contestants
are locked in a house and bombarded with questions day and night, with
the least successful competitor facing eviction at the end of each day.
Drama featured prominently in the channel's autumn schedule, details of
which were announced yesterday. Among the highlights are Henry VIII,
starring Ray Winstone, Sean Bean, Emilia Fox and Helena Bonham-Carter
as Anne Boleyn, and Boudica, with Alex Kingston in the title role.
Mr Pickard also announced that he had commissioned a new sitcom,
Shane, written by and starring Frank Skinner.
He said he planned to resolve the continuing controversy over News at
Ten within the next six months.
At present the main evening bulletin is broadcast at 10pm on only
three or four nights of the week. That was untenable, he said.
"You can't have a floating bulletin or one that is going head to head
with the BBC."
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