It was always going to be an uphill slog. Robert Peston’s new politics show seems to have been dwarfed by the Andrew Marr juggernaut. BBC One’s Sunday morning programme found an audience 10 times that of Peston’s debut 10am slot yesterday.
The producers of the ITV show will, not unfairly, cite the hot weather as disproportionately eating into the later programme’s audience. It may be too early to start speculating on a New Day-style collapse for Peston on Sunday. But heatwave or not, should ITV be worried?
In an age of catch up, daily viewing figures are no longer the be all and end all. On Twitter the war between #peston and #marr was much more closely fought, with both approximating equivalent numbers of mentions. ITV also benefits from lacking the BBC embarrassment regarding social media. Hashtags and Twitter handles are plastered over the screen and we even got a lecture from the fearsome Allegra Stratton on the importance of digital engagement.
Snippets of Peston chillaxing with the chancellor and Louis Theroux were released across Twitter and Facebook with an efficiency designed to show up the BBC news machine. Catch-up opportunities are being aggressively plugged across ITV’s channels and by next week I’d anticipate the 10-1 margin of Marr to Peston to have been significantly reduced. The presence of Osborne on the first programme – a politician who judiciously polices his media image (he has, for example, never allowed an interview to Andrew Neil) – bodes well for securing the big beasts. Next week’s Jeremy Corbyn interview is also guaranteed to stir up noise.
This doesn’t get ITV entirely off the hook. Peston is a good foil to his BBC rival. If Marr serenades his audience with sonorous proclamations, Peston is his opposite: self-deprecating, slightly off-beat, defined by a voice whose intonations play out like experimental jazz. It may take a while for the ears of his new audience to tune in but like every national treasure in the making this could be the quirk that develops into a trademark. The programme that surrounds him, however, is crying out for distinction. The set looks like something used for Lorraine circa 2003 (down to the stale croissants). Viewers half expect a section where Alastair Campbell shows Allegra the best way to sauté cucumbers. The camera seems to be operated by a film grad who thinks they’re shooting a Tarantino film – all corner angles and urgent swooping pans.
The worst scenario is that ITV – disheartened by underwhelming ratings – loses interest. To build a brand takes relentless effort. Peston on Sunday needs a much stronger marketing push. It also needs to have a clearer idea of what it wants to do.
In its heyday ITV produced things like Weekend World, a serious, agenda-setting programme run by people like a young Peter Mandelson who were driven to put their work – and themselves – on the map. If it irons out the creases, strips back on the daytime fluff aesthetic and continues to find interesting ways of syncing up old and new media Peston on Sunday can be just as bold and distinctive.
Mark Borkowski is the founder of Borkowski.do. He tweets @MarkBorkowski