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1 April 2004 tbs.pm/1962

Ian Beaumont on a new news for ITV – nationally and regionally

2 February 2004 was an important day for ITV. Carlton and Granada merged into one company called ITV plc, which now owns most of the entire ITV Network.

Only SMG, owners of Scottish & Grampian, UTV and Channel are independent of this behemoth. But this day also saw a brand new look for ITV News and the ITV regional news operations of ITV plc.

Unexpectedly, ITV decided to launch their new look at 5.30 am, with the ITV Morning News with Rachel McTavish – a move that will have been missed by all but the earliest risers. There had been signs that a change was coming.

The ITV News Channel had been broadcasting their usual overnight service of recorded bulletins, interspersed with live summaries, without a channel identifier or clock present on-screen all night.

News channels do not do that unless there is a major technical fault, or the device that puts the identifier on screen is being re-programmed, and since a re-launch was known to be coming – well, it made perfect sense.

But when it came, the look was most unexpected. The titles were blue and yellow, very much ITV’s corporate colour scheme since ITV changed their logo in 1998. But it had only been in the past couple of years that the colour scheme had entered the realm of ITV News.

Now, they are firmly ensconced as the ITV news colours. The graphics, though, are not exclusively dominated by blue and yellow: white also makes an appearance too.

In fact, the graphics are generally pretty good: not too fancy, but essentially they do the job, which is the most important part. It is also good to see graphics in use rather than the BBC News use of text-only on BBC1.

However, the thing that stands out most about the new look is the studio, or what has been described as the “Theatre Of News”. It is quite large, which – considering it is located in the ex-ITN News Channel studio, and that was always made to look small – is a big surprise.

A video wall curves around the back of the studio like an IMAX cinema screen, and primarily displays a greened image of what we see on-screen, an image that is inserted digitally. During rehearsals for the main ITV1 programmes, the channel decamps to a small single-camera chromakey studio, which wasn’t too bad with the old look as you almost couldn’t tell to look at it visually.

However, with this new look, the studio appears significantly different, showing up the limitations of the small studio.

But the best thing about the new ‘look’ of ITV News is, in fact, the music. It features what has become the familiar ITV News musical logo, first heard in the Johnny Pearson KPM music library composition, ‘The Awakening’ used on the original ‘News At Ten’ from 1967 onwards.

The theme was first revised in about 1990, for the change to a single presenter for ‘News At Ten’. It was revised again to provide the themes for ITV’s other ITN News programmes in 1994, and then further modified in 1999, to provide a consistent theme right across all the ITV News programmes.

The package was slightly altered in 2003, before this latest change in 2004, arranged by Dave Hewson and Bill Baylis. The new form of the theme is much more upbeat and positive, but it still retains a sober edge. It is not too heavy on musical impact, which was a definite fault of the 1999 revision.

Many of the ITV regions received at least a bit of a re-dressing on February 2nd 2004 as well. Most had the new ‘4 blocks’ logo incorporated into them somehow; Westcountry got a green screen section added, so that Richard Bath or Alexis Bowater can now stand up in front of the CSO graphics and do a Mark Austin or Mary Nightingale.

But London waited until March 1st 2004 to get, not just a whole new look studio, but a move from its old headquarters at Kent House, nowadays known as the London Studios, to the headquarters of ITN at Gray’s Inn Road. The new London design is much closer to the ITV News look, using the same style desk and benches as are used in the national studio.

The regions also use a slightly modified version of the ITV News theme, which has a slightly different musical logo, but is unmistakably ITV News.

One of the strangest things about the new regional news is seeing an ITV endcap. These endcaps appear on almost every regional production I’ve seen, including the regional news.

The ITV News Channel has also seen some vast improvements with the new look. The introduction of double-header presenter shows has been a big hit from all the responses I have seen and heard. In fact, it has been great to see some wonderful double-header teams being built up.

But there is a small problem in that the news channel still shares the main ITV News studio and gets turfed out about an hour before each main ITV1 bulletin for rehearsals. It will usually go into the new ITV London studio until the simulcast is over. However, they also use a small one-camera chromakey studio, which with the old look wasn’t always too noticeable.

When the new look came in, the difference was very noticeable – and it still is. It still seems odd to me that The ITV News Channel doesn’t have its own separate studio from the main ITV News bulletins on ITV1. It also seems odd that they use three different studios for the one channel, when BBC News 24 and Sky News both have their own dedicated studios.

Still, for all the shifting between studios (which doesn’t cover a lot of airtime even though it happens about 3 times a day), the ITV News channel does come across as a much-improved entity, and indeed, the whole ITV News operation does present itself a lot better than it used to.

The new studio design is quite simple and effective, the ‘theatre of news’ is put to good use, and the presenters and reporters do seem to have settled into the new studio quite well.

There are technical problems on occasion, but these seem to have been well and truly covered, for the most part, in rehearsals prior to launch, and so haven’t really stuck out like a sore thumb – except for one occasion on the ITV Evening News when things went completely wrong and, even then, the professionalism of the newscasters helped to overcome it with seeming ease and calm.

So right now, ITV News gets full marks for improvement in their service overall. The ITV News Channel also gets better marks for their service, but there is still a long way to go before it can catch up with BBC News 24 and Sky News. However, the signs are definitely encouraging.

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