Broadcaster ITV scraps soaps as crisis saps British ad sales

By Paul Sandle

LONDON (Reuters) – ITV ditched forecasts for annual advertising sales and results on Monday as the coronavirus forced Britain’s biggest commercial free-to-air broadcaster to suspend production of top shows including “Coronation Street” and “Emmerdale”.

Advertisers across all categories were deferring campaigns in a rapidly changing situation, ITV said as it also pulled its dividend. The company said it had implemented contingency plans to enable it to continue to produce news and live output.

ITV’s shares fell to an eight-year low of 50 pence at the open and were trading down 13% at 55 pence at 0812 GMT after Chief Executive Carolyn McCall said the broadcaster had to make difficult decisions in “unprecedented and uncertain times”.

“Our absolute priority is to protect our people, while trying to ensure that we deliver the news and programmes our viewers value and love to watch, and to keep them informed.”

ITV had already seen the impact of coronavirus on travel and tourism, but as Britain ramped up measures to fight the outbreak, including shutting down all cinemas, pubs and cafes, it said advertising was being deferred across the board.

But while advertisers have retreated, TV viewing has risen as Britons stay at home amid government calls for social distancing or self-isolation to slow the coronavirus spread.

ITV’s entertainment show “Saturday Night Takeaway”, broadcast without an audience for the first time due to the coronavirus crisis, had its biggest ever audience of 9.5 million on Saturday, accounting for 45% of TV viewers at the time.

The broadcaster said with most recorded TV production on hold, it expected to benefit from increased demand for its library of programmes, helped by its relationship with other broadcasters and platform owners.

(Reporting by Paul Sandle; editing by Kate Holton and Alexander Smith)

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