ITV said this week it was confident its coverage of Euro 2004 football along with new high-end autumn dramas would help lift its audience share. Executives are also considering putting another Celebrity into the schedules this year.
At present, ITV commands only a 41.3% share of the TV audience, down from 42.5% last year.
If the deficit is still there at the end of the year, revenue will drop accordingly under the Contracts Rights Renewal (CRR) system - a condition of the Carlton/Granada merger. CRR allows advertisers to decrease their spend on ITV in line with any drop in ratings for three years after the merger and retain agreed discounts. Buyers said the deficit would equate to around £100m, based on overall TV ad revenues of £3.3bn.
An ITV spokeswoman said the £100m figure was "overblown". "Overall we are pretty confident about what we have got coming up and that the year will improve from where it is currently," she said.