Jeremy Lee on Media: GMTV's long goodbye

Jeremy Lee
Jeremy Lee

Brands are right to be on their guard as ITV looks to fully integrate GMTV into its daytime offering.

The GMTV sofa has, of late, been subject to far more shuffling of rears than usual, but certainly not because the broadcaster's band of sunnily disposed presenters have suddenly been deploying penetrative interrogation techniques on electioneering politicians.

ITV acquired Disney's 25% stake in the 'Channel 3' breakfast-time TV franchise for £22.5m in November, thereby taking complete control of the station after nearly 20 years of independence from the network. Since then, out the doors have shuffled several long-standing members of staff, including programme director Peter McHugh and former sales and marketing chief and chief operating officer Clive Crouch, as well as, most prominently, star news presenter Penny Smith, who announced last week that she is leaving after 17 years.

With GMTV's News Hour now consigned to history, more changes are expected as costs are cut and ITV tries to integrate the station - which has hitherto been something of a plucky little standalone outfit that has trodden an unfashionable but relatively successful path - into its own bigger operation.

For London-centric observers, as cosy and bland as GMTV can be, it is easy to forget just how popular it is, with a weekday morning reach of nearly 5m viewers.

It is thought that ITV plans to save up to 20%. The 300-strong GMTV team can be forgiven, therefore, for feeling a little nervous at the moment as its new master takes steps to tidy up the schedule and integrate it into a coherent 'ITV day'.

Unfortunately for the network, a refusal by regulators to loosen the CRR regulations means that this 'tidying' does not allow it to do what it most wanted to after taking full control of GMTV. This was to absorb its sales function, thereby potentially allowing it to sell breakfast airtime to advertisers on condition that they also buy time on the main network.

For the time being, at least, the two look likely to remain separate. For GMTV's key FMCG and toy advertisers, that's probably a good thing as they still have a choice - if you don't want to buy ITV daytime, you can buy GMTV at a different price.

GMTV has carved a niche for advertisers that want to target downmarket housewives and those with children (although BARB data reveals its profile remains less heavily reliant on the older and even more downmarket audiences of its new master channel).

ITV will therefore have to be careful to ensure that its tinkering does not alienate those surprisingly loyal, but easily neglected, viewers who allow it to occupy this place in their viewing repertoire. After all, rival commercial broadcasters have attempted to crack the breakfast market before and none has had the enduring success of GMTV.

Few doubt, however, that the new housekeeping rules will mean that the GMTV brand, which has been on air since 1993, is likely to disappear. This will be as a precursor to the day when sales rules are relaxed and it becomes just another strand that runs seamlessly into This Morning - an ideal start, ITV hopes, for an army of couch potatoes.

While the sun may be setting on GMTV, with an ITV Morning that segues neatly into the rest of the daytime schedule rising in its place, it is not solely those politicians hoping for an easy ride and a way of connecting with more downmarket potential voters who should take an interest in its replacement. Advertisers that use the channel and value its audience should follow the changes closely, too.

Jeremy Lee is associate editor of Marketing. Read his blog at marketingmagazine.co.uk

30 SECONDS ON ... GMTV

- GMTV (Good Morning Television) replaced the first Channel 3 breakfast-time franchise, TV-am, on 1 January 1993. TV-am had been on the air since February 1983; the only national ITV station, it broadcast every day of the week and was launched two weeks after the BBC's Breakfast Time.

- GMTV runs from Monday to Friday each week, from 6am-8.35am Monday-Thursday, and 6am-9.25am on Fridays. GMTV with Lorraine (Kelly) airs from Monday to Thursday following the main GMTV strand. The GMTV News Hour - originally the Reuters News Hour - ran from 6am-7am, beginning soon after GMTV's launch in 1993; it was axed last year.

- Eamonn Holmes was co-presenter of the first show, with Anne Davies. Holmes stayed with GMTV for 12 years, appearing on the sofa alongside presenters including Anthea Turner, Lorraine Kelly and Fiona Phillips. Holmes eventually left to join Sky News' Sunrise programme in 2005; Phillips quit GMTV last summer. Kelly continues to present her own show.

- GMTV underwent its first relaunch within months of going on air. The changes included overhauled graphics and a set revamp. The franchise has been subject to a series of tweaks over the past year, including fresh graphics and music and the addition of a voiceover introducing the presenters.

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