ITV regional cutbacks: devil in the details. 

9 July 2008 tbs.pm/919

Broadcast Now reports that the director of ITV Regions, Michael Jeremy, has sent a letter to all staff in the regions detailing the timetable for redundancies and their plans for creating their new vision of regional ITV.

I say this a lot in various places, but I make no apologies for saying it again. It’s all very well making good plans to save money, but as always, the devil is in the details, and these are the things you have to watch most carefully, because if you don’t, they will come back and bite you on the rear end when you least expect it.

Broadcast Now also have a copy of the letter that has been sent out to every member of staff and it makes interesting reading. The plans as we know were to cut the number of regions down to 9, but in essence, each region would produce 2 sub-regional programmes for it’s region from it’s hub. So take the West of England and Westcountry as an example. Bristol would produce two shows. One to go out to the West of England, one to go out to the Westcountry. Sounds simple enough, but think about this. Bristol to Penzance is about a 3 hour journey time, by road or rail.

Now, you can say, well surely they can have some facilities in Plymouth or closer, but that’s not the point. It’s the sense of disconnect from the location. Listeners in Plymouth have had that disconnect feeling twice now, from the same company. Back in the early 1990s Plymouth Sound decided to join forces with their Exeter based sister station, Devonair, and provide a joint evening and overnight service. Plymouth listeners practically revolted over the development, and you found listeners moving away from Plymouth Sound at that time. It all came to an end when Devonair closed at the end of 1994, a loser in a franchise auction, to be replaced by Gemini FM.

Then in 1999, Plymouth Sound then decided that their AM service needed to change, from the local Plymouth Sound AM that had been running separately on AM since about 1990, to a networked Classic Gold Plymouth. WIthin 6 months, they’d lost two thirds of their listeners, as Plymouth listeners did not like the fact that a local station had been replaced by a quasi-national one. Even now, Gold Plymouth is a ratings failure, with a reach of just 7,000 listeners in a market of around 330,000 listeners.

Half the UK is going to feel that kind of disconnect under the plans ITV are working on.

The letter also says a detailed plan will be published in the autumn, but the headlines they list do not make great reading.

• 18 ‘local’ services within a nine region structure

Like I just said, half the country will end up feeling disconnected from ITV

• High quality programmes for ITV viewers everywhere

Technical quality, yes, but other definitions of quality might be less easy to claim on

• A familiar ‘family of faces’ making up every regional reporting team

Erm, shouldn’t encouraging new talent be a part of that as well?

• High TV production values incorporating excellent graphics

Means it will look great, even if it’s nothing more than manure, it’ll be nice, shiny manure!

• Excellent presentation both in the studio and on the road

You actually need to say this? That should be a given.

• Broadband delivery as important as television – fully integrated in all newsrooms

This is one of the few headlines that reads well. Perhaps, finally, it is a recognition that internet broadcasting is as much a part of our broadcasting future, as satellite and terrestrial are.

• We will create truly local city and county sites within ITV Local

They will need to work hard to make these sites work, and there is little sign that ITV really wants to work very hard of anything. Look at how quickly they dropped the ITV News Channel.

• Harnessing technology to improve newsgathering and production

Well, that’s always going to happen in any broadcast environment. Again, completely unnecessary to say it

• Ability to go live from location right across England and Wales – a strong satellite and live link fleet

The way we always seem to have reporters live at every location, seems somewhat excessive. For stories that are constantly developing, then yes there is a case for it, but what is wrong with a straight forward packaged report?

• A recognition that the capacity to report from location is more important than maintaining oversized expensive buildings or concerns over where studios are located

Wrong, totally wrong, absolutely overflowing with wrong-ness! This would suggest that eventually news will not be presented from a studio, but reporters live in various locations just linking to each other. God, what a horrid thought!

• Camera coverage to suit the job; i) maintaining sufficient craft camera operators to provide the quality we need in high end features and on news stories, ii) reporters who can film their own material for use on TV and broadband, with appropriate training to support them iii) ensuring the operators of our ‘live from location’ satellite vehicles have high quality camera and editing skills

In other words, everybody’s gotta multitask. As if there isn’t enough of that already!

• Clear, inclusive leadership in every region with good communication right across ING

This is an area business tends to fail in. Leadership always says do as I say, and communication tends to work only one way, from the top down. I hope they keep this promise, but I won’t hold my breath waiting.

• An emphasis on excellent programme producing, first rate planning, high quality news editing and creative features production

This sounds good, but again, I’m not holding my breath waiting for it.

• Editorial decisions driven locally. ING will continue to ensure ‘best practice’ is shared but regional diversity will continue to be celebrated

How can you make an editorial decision for Cornwall, from Bristol? Bristol is a completely different vibe and atmosphere to Cornwall. Hell, Cornwall is different to Plymouth, to Devon, and just abouot anywhere else.

• An adherence to ITV values. We’re going through major change and we want ITV regional news to continue to be a great place to work

As far as I know, ITV values seems to be appeal to the lowest common denominator. Some of us would prefer ITV to try to raise the bar just a little bit.

They say they anticipate this new structure to begin in 2009. I hope I’m proved wrong, but somehow, considering my own disconnect from ITV, I don’t think so.