ITV's ad revenue falls 42% in April as coronavirus bites

LONDON (Reuters) - ITV ITV.L, Britain's biggest free-to-air commercial broadcaster, said COVID-19 had sent its advertising revenue down 42% last month, and an uncertain outlook meant it could not give guidance for the rest of the year.

The group, which paused the majority of its studio productions in mid-March and has furloughed around 800 workers, said it had identified another 30 million pounds ($37.3 million) of savings on top of action it was already taking, including a 100 million pound cut in the programme budget.

Chief Executive Carolyn McCall said ITV had taken swift and decisive action to manage and mitigate the impact of COVID-19, both on its people and its finances.

“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,” she said.

The broadcaster had already cut executive pay and cancelled its 2019 final dividend to help preserve cash.

ITV’s shares, which have more than halved since the start of the year, were trading up 3.2% at 74 pence in early deals.

Analysts at Citi said the drop in April advertising revenue was less severe than the 50% they had expected.

“With an absence of any major negatives and the severity of the share price move versus peers this year, we see these results as positive,” they said.

Citi forecasts ITV’s advertising revenue for the year will fall 19%.

ITV said it was working with others across the industry on measure that would allow productions to restart.

It had to halt filming on its popular soap operas “Coronation Street” and “Emmerdale” in March, and on Monday it pulled this summer’s run of “Love Island”, the standout success for its ITV 2 channel.

Total external revenue for the three months to 31 March fell 7% to 694 million pounds, it said, as it was hit by working restrictions at ITV Studios caused by the crisis.

Broadcast revenue for the quarter rose 2% to 500 million pounds, with ITV total advertising up 2% as originally guided, it said on Wednesday.

Editing by Kate Holton and Jan Harvey