Making your mind up 

1 December 2002

A day of tension and indecision for Colm O’Rourke and UTV respectively.

The well documented and much anticipated cosmetic overhaul of ITV1’s presentation in late October was a make-or-break moment in determining the channel’s future, and whether a clear path lay ahead for consolidation or if deviance among the ranks would yet again thwart Carlton and Granada’s ambitions for a prolonged period.

Like the two previous attempts, would this example of ITV1 “ethnic cleansing” once and for all annihilate the scattered regional identities in favour of a national ITV1 amalgam, or, in reality, make a half-baked effort? More to the point, would ITV1’s relaunch be recognised by the elusive independent companies in the ITV network?

Reports on how Ulster Television, one of these three companies, would react to the impending on-screen changes on the British mainland were uncertain and often conflicting. One column would suggest that all ITV companies were to participate in the metamorphosis into ITV1, others would imply UTV and its independent colleagues would shun the imminent ITV1 rebranding and keep their separate identities intact. With these reports it was problematic to believe what UTV’s viewers could expect come 9:25am on Monday 28 October 2002. Only then could the score be finally settled and certain speculators could feel vindicated in their prophecies.

On “Judgement Day”, the handover from GMTV to UTV was turbulent and schizophrenic, whether this was intentional to create tension and leave the issue unresolved is unclear. After a brief glimpse of the extended ident montage that introduced mainland viewers to the cosmetically enhanced, newly consolidated ITV1, the Northern Ireland audience were hastily blacked out from the sequence as Davina McCall led the procession of ITV1 presenters ringing the changes. During a second or two possibly spent in deliberation, the signal cut to the tail end of one of UTV’s previous start-up idents, followed by another 50 seconds of UTV branded trailers, again shunning the fresh ITV1 design, bridging the gap until the day’s edition of Trisha. First impression: UTV have taken a different path yet again to their network brethren.

Move forward 15 minutes later to the day’s first commercial break and, quite suddenly, a change of tact emerges from Havelock House. A new break-bumper, in the same style as the new ITV1 bumper, but usurped by a UTV logo. Perhaps the station’s vehemence of the new ITV1 presentation style isn’t as watertight as first imagined. The documented “break flash”, the second-long flash of squares scheduled to appear between each commercial, however, did not appear. Was this a further indication of UTV resistance at succumbing to ITV universality? Not quite. Surprisingly, it transpired that the break filler was only implemented in four of the ITV1 regional services; London, Anglia, (HTV) West, Meridian and Channel. Could this be an early abortive effort at the latest endeavour in homogenising the ITV companies? So far, no new idents and no break filler, but a new break bumper. Not much to base a solid impression on UTV’s participation to the ITV1 circus.

Almost an hour later, UTV raised the ante in the guessing game when a trailer for Heartbeat concluded with a new animation. With a white and blue background, and with four iconic squares in the bottom right corner, without a doubt the trailer end sequence bore the hallmarks of a network promotion. Would the four squares reform into an ITV1 logo? Just in time, a UTV logo faded up in the position where the ITV1 logo would surely appear. With UTV’s habit of not placing an ident before This Morning or the Lunchtime News, the mystery surrounding UTV’s decision to adopt the ITV network idents remained an enigma into the afternoon.

A definite resolution to the question of UTV adopting the new “starring an ITV1 celebrity!” network idents was resolved at last by 1pm. In place of the scenic Irish imagery and spinning oblongs of the incumbent UTV idents, Davina popped up again amidst a background of blue and yellow squares, one of the myriad of variants of the new network idents. A network ident on UTV? That surely can’t be right. Had the transmission controllers at UTV returned to the network too early? Or could it be that UTV have done the unthinkable – gone along with the new collection of ITV network idents? Had UTV sacrificed their independent status and caught in the tide of ITV1 supremacy?

Turns out they didn’t. The clever souls at UTV couldn’t throw away their meticulously crafted, rock-hard identity at the drop of a hat! As Davina continued her on-screen escapades, the UTV logo subtly formed itself at the bottom right hand corner of the screen, assuming its resting-place where mainland viewers read ITV1. This may have been created as an ITV1 ident, but to the minds of its audience, this was UTV they were watching. Their TV. Northern Ireland viewers could feel comfortable that their station would from now on, embrace the best of both worlds in Independent Television presentation.

Throughout the day, more exponents on the intertwining of UTV and ITV1 identities continued. More idents in the new series were rolled out, bearing ITV network faces and UTV station identity. A few trailers aired using a similar template to network promotions, but station logo, local voiceover and “…on UTV” conclusion remained intact. An ITV1 End Credit Promotion sequence was substituted by a variant with UTV branding and voiceover by the UTV duty announcer. Indeed, as the English regions mourned the loss of their “local” announcers the previous day in varying fashions, UTV’s continuity department venture on unaffected, ensuring the familiar local voices at the familiar local television company can still be heard introducing the evening’s programme schedule.

It may be the first time UTV has agreed to tag along with the strive for generic ITV presentation across the regions, but after 13 years of prior resistance, it can hardly be called a sell-out. If anything, the combination of network presentation devices and maintenance of the station name and logo has enhanced UTV’s overall presentation. The UTV identity – brand even – has not been eroded, and through its sustained on-screen presence, asserts itself as the primary channel identity over ITV1 as far as Northern Ireland viewers are concerned. Yet it carries on as an insignificant, underestimated and independent franchisee within the ITV network. The moral of the story? You can be part of a consensus and still succeed in keeping the spirit of individuality alive.

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