Endangered species 

15 June 2009 tbs.pm/1066

Primeval dropped by ITV

BBC set for clash over plans to give part of licence fee to rivals

These two media stories may be fundamentally different in their nature but they both somehow relate to one pressing subject; notably the future direction of what is still (for the time being, at least) Britain’s most popular commercial broadcaster.

Ironically I would regard ITV’s decision to cancel its family-orientated sci-fi drama series Primeval to be of greater importance overall than the rumoured intention to divert a chunk of BBC licence fee towards ITV regional news, because the latter still has to overcome significant hurdles before gaining any chance of reality.

Any proposed regional news funding scheme would have to be implemented via legislation during a fraught political period leading up to next year’s general election which is likely to result in a Conservative victory or a hung parliament; either way there’s still a reasonable chance that the proposals could be sidelined/curtailed or cancelled as a result.

Then there’s a fair possibility that any plan to prop up ITV regional news may fall foul of European cross-subsidy regulations, and even if that hurdle is overcome there are still notable issues to be solved relating to the plan’s actual implementation that will require much more in the way of time-consuming research.

Anyway, back to the cancellation of Primeval and why it’s arguably more important for the future of ITV than preserving its regional news output. Put simply, the Primeval decision relates to the battle that exists within ITV between those who believe that newly-commissioned drama still has a place within the schedule and those who think otherwise.

It seems fairly obvious that axing Primeval is the most prominent feature of a formulated compromise strategy, namely that the only retained drama before 9pm will be the soap opera bankers Coronation Street and Emmerdale, with the rest of ITV1’s drama output – such as one episode of The Bill each week – being post-watershed.

Indeed the announcement to axe Primeval makes greater sense when given the perspective of that earlier decision to move The Bill to a post-watershed slot – “shiny floor shows” like Britain’s Got Talent are cheaper to produce and require less in the way of upfront investment but they only really work in the schedule before 9pm.

This may make business sense in the short term but will do absolutely nothing to salvage any lost credibility that ITV has suffered in recent times; Saturday night ITV1 ratings dropped like a stone after Britain’s Got Talent (which peaked at 17+ million) finished, with programmes such as All Star Mr & Mrs struggling to reach 4 million viewers.

So ITV may be saving money by scrapping Primeval, but adopting an anti-drama strategy for its early evening schedule will do no favours whatsoever for its credibility. And credibility is the one thing apart from cash that ITV really needs.