ITV seeks ratings boost from rugby and Coronation Street to mark 60th birthday


Britain's biggest commercial broadcaster celebrates its 60th birthday with the hope of a ratings boost from the Rugby World Cup and a live episode of Coronation Street.

There is reason for optimism due to an increase in profits, but falling ratings will be of some concern to the advertiser-dependent company.

ITV launched on Thursday September 22 1955 initially in London only. But the roll-out of the network to regions across Britain quickly followed and by 1962 ITV was broadcasting nationwide.

The fledgling broadcaster's diet of populist fare, such as variety specials, big money quiz shows and its soap Coronation Street - which premiered in 1960 - helped the commercial channel grab its share of audience from the BBC.

Over the years, ITV has maintained its status as a channel for popular viewing, engaging with huge audiences thanks to successful series including Upstairs, Downstairs and The Sweeney in the 1970s; Minder and The Bill in the 1980s; Cold Feet and Taggart in the 1990s and into the new century with must-see light entertainment shows from Ant and Dec, Simon Cowell and acclaimed dramas such as Downton Abbey.

So far this year, ITV has experienced a 5% drop in viewing share as some key new series - including recently axed Harry Hill's Stars In Their Eyes and Stephen Mulhern talent show Get Your Act Together - flopped, while long-running stalwarts The X Factor and Coronation Street have lost audience. The soap hopes to boost viewing figures this week with an hour-long live episode on Wednesday.

It is hoped live sport and event TV can increase viewing share and provide competition to streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime and YouTube. ITV lost the rights to Champions League football to BT but it will air Six Nations matches from 2016 to 2021.

The commercial broadcaster has criticised the BBC for scheduling ballroom series Strictly Come Dancing against The X Factor in a key time for advertising revenues. Peter Fincham, ITV's director of television, said last month: "It's a game to them, and it's a business to us."

But ITV Studios, the programme-making arm of the business, has been boosted by recent acquisitions including Talpa Media, creator of BBC talent singing series The Voice, and Mammoth Screen, which produces BBC One's hit drama Poldark starring Aidan Turner.

Commercial television faces a challenging future as the rise of digital channels and streaming platform services impacts on ratings, but ITV can at least pause for a moment to reflect on how far it has come.

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