UK's ITV is in the middle of a premium-rate phone-call scandal which has led to prime-time programmes and an entire channel, ITV Play, coming off the air. The big question that ITV surely has to ask themselves is, whether the income they earn from phone-ins is really worth the damage they are doing to their brand by taking themselves down a lowest-common-denominator path.
ITV have had to add to this week's misery by revealing that pre-tax profits fell to £288m ($555m) in the 12 months to 31 December from £311m in 2005. Whereas ITV are coy revealing how much premium-rate call lines make for ITV, their latest interim report shows that their gaming channel ITV Play is expected to make £20m profit in its first year.
It has to be asked, instead of chasing the easy buck, shouldn't ITV be concentrating on what their core business is - making television programmes? And I don't mean Alan Titchmarsh's new daytime chatshow.
Comparing BBC to ITV in recent years:
• BBC have launched News 24, a 24-hour news network, two commercial-free children's TV channels, a non-mainstream first-run entertainment channel (BBC3) and a cultural highground channel (BBC4) to great success.
• ITV have launched and abandoned their news channel, have launched a middle-of-the-road drama repeats channel (ITV3), have re-branded cars and porn channel "Granada Men and Motors" as "male oriented" channel ITV4, and have launched ITV Play, a 24/7 premium-rate phone-in quiz channel.
A couple of nights ago, my wife and I were watching a late-evening film on ITV4 ("The Rat Pack" if you must know). As the evening went on, the adverts became more and more salacious, with entire ad-breaks consisting of premium-rate chat-lines with scanity-clad girls advertising chat-lines and mobile phone pictures of "Page 3 Babes". Now we're not Quakers or anything, but after a while my wife and I agreed that ITV4 is a difficult channel to watch in the evening, having to ignore this material that's just short of pornography.
There once was a time when ITV could have been considered a premium brand, and indeed Scottish Television's Roy Thomson famously called an ITV franchise "a licence to print money" - through simply making quality programmes.
Why are ITV now so determined to destroy any value their brand once had with premium-rate phonelines and porn? That's the business model of The Sunday Sport, not the commercial television rival to the BBC.