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Coronavirus: ITV furloughs 800 staff as ad sales dive

Oscar Williams-Grut
Senior City Correspondent, Yahoo Finance UK
ITV scored a hit with recent drama Quiz. (ITV)

ITV (ITV.L) has furloughed 15% of its UK workforce as advertising sales dry up and production grinds to a halt.

The broadcaster said on Wednesday it has placed 800 staff on furlough under the government’s job retention scheme. Most were staff in the ITV Studios business, which produces programmes such as Love Island, Coronation Street, and Benidorm.

Production on most shows has had to be paused due to the pandemic and earlier this week ITV cancelled this year’s series of Love Island. Revenue at ITV studios fell 11% in the first three months of the year to £342m ($423m). ITV has already announced it is cutting its programming budget by £100m this year.

“ITV has taken swift and decisive action to manage and mitigate the impact of COVID-19, by focusing on our people and their safety, and by continuing to reduce costs and tightly manage our cashflow and liquidity,” chief executive Carolyn McCall said in a statement.

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News of the furloughing came as ITV reported a jump in viewing figures but a slump in advertising revenue. Total viewers rose by 2% in the first three months of 2020, with a 75% surge in online viewing. Recent hits include Quiz, a dramatisation of the 2001 Who Wants to be a Millionaire? cheating scandal.

ITV is still producing ten hours of live programming a day despite the lockdown and this week resumed production of daytime hit Loose Women.

ITV said ad sales rose by 2% in the first quarter but had since slumped 42% in April due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The broadcaster said it couldn’t give any guidance about how the market may fare in the coming months.

“We are now very focused on emerging from this crisis in a strong position, continuing to offer advertisers effective marketing opportunities and making preparations to restart productions safely,” McCall said.

Neil Wilson, chief market analyst at Markets.com, said ITV’s first quarter performance was “actually pretty solid”. Shares rose 5.5% in early trade in London.