Five into four won’t go 

3 November 2014 tbs.pm/5690

1976 Trident

1976 advert in Broadcast magazine, congratulating ITV on reaching 21 years old

The Independent Television Authority’s “big idea” for the 1967/8 franchise round was to shake up the ITV system by changing the “Big 4” major companies (Rediffusion, ATV, ABC, Granada) into a “Big 5” (Thames, LWT, ATV, Granada, Yorkshire).

To a degree, this worked. But the major companies needed major regions to guarantee income. Of the Big 5, all had those… except Yorkshire. YTV’s region was the smallest and least wealthy of the four geographical regions. To make life worse, even the prosperous parts it did have were in extensive overlap areas: York, Harrogate, Knaresborough could get Tyne Tees with ease. Hull, Bridlington, eastern Leeds, could all get Anglia. Overlap areas always equalled lower advertising revenue: agencies could play one region off against another.

Then there was the problem of UHF. The service patterns of UHF, introduced with BBC-2 in 1964, had been disappointing. While one VHF transmitter on Band-I could cover most of Lancashire, Yorkshire, Cheshire and more, one UHF transmitter in Lancashire barely covered the whole of Lancashire. Yorkshire’s region, already small, would shrink considerably when UHF came to Emley Moor. Booster transmitters could and would be built, but they would take time – most of the 1970s and into the 80s.

The one thing the Independent Broadcasting Authority could do was add to Yorkshire’s region. But that had the drawback of adding parts of the country that firmly weren’t in Yorkshire – or even the north – to the Yorkshire region. Nevertheless, in 1974 the Belmont transmitter was handed to Yorkshire, depriving Lincolnshire and north Norfolk of Anglia, but giving YTV uncontested control of Hull and Leeds.

But to the north there was trouble. The best place to put a UHF transmitter was on Bilsdale in North Yorkshire. This would serve much of the north east coast, from Alnwick to Whitby. But it would also serve from York to Mansfield, including great swathes of the YTV region. If Tyne Tees had the transmitter, Yorkshire would be challenged in its heartland. If YTV had the transmitter, Tyne Tees wouldn’t be viable, with the only settlement of any note unchallenged being Hexham.

The first solution YTV and TTT came to was to launch a joint advertising sales operation – Trident Television. The Bilsdale transmitter could then be handed to TTT, but the revenue from it could be shared with YTV. This, however, was not a permanent solution. After further discussions, Trident was reversed into both Yorkshire Television and Tyne Tees Television to become the holding company for both. This ensured that the advertising money could be pooled and both stations could benefit. It also saw cost savings for both companies, YTV still being saddled with start-up costs and TTT living through the decline of the docks and shipbuilders in its area.

The arrangement was successful, and the IBA approved at first. However, YTV and TTT started to get closer and closer in identity and operations – to the point that the holding company announced plans to rebrand both services under the Trident name. The IBA promptly vetoed this, and made it known that when the next franchise round began, YTV and TTT would have to apply separately for their contracts and would be expected to be separate companies.

Trident could’ve kept one and a slice of the other. But the 1980s were clearly going to be hard for the television industry. They decided to let both go and concentrate on the “third prong” of the trident – its leisure activities. YTV and TTT were floated, the tiny Satellite Television Limited operation was sold to News International and Trident bought the UK arm of Playboy Industries, with its change of clubs and casinos.

The Trident experiment proved that two companies under one management would eventually coalesce into one company with one identity. Years later, Yorkshire and Tyne Tees would merge again, setting off a wave of ITV mergers and proving the experiment’s results once again.

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