ITV’s regional news u-turn 

26 May 2012 tbs.pm/1297

Tyne Tees's North East Tonight studio

Remember a few years ago when ITV plc decided that 17 regional news programmes was unsustainable and that to make commercial sense they should only have nine in England and Wales?

Well that was in 2009. Now it’s 2012 and it seems ITV have had a change of heart.

In their submission to an Ofcom report on the future of public service broadcasting, ITV plc has proposed restoring the original 17 news areas. And all at no cost to the taxpayer.

The surprising change of heart would come at the cost of halving the ITV lunch time news, and whilst each of the 17 programmes would be 30 minutes long, the final twenty minutes would be general interest features that would be used across two or more regions. Except for viewers in Wales who’d have their own features.

ITV’s true reasons for the change aren’t given although it seems the company has recognised that to keep its prime EPG slots and carriage deals may well mean it needs to act a bit above the level of Sky One. But it also implies that the great regional news cull of 2009 has not gone down well with viewers.

That and that TV may be slightly concerned about the continuing ludicrous attempts to launch local TV stations – a concept which Jeremy Hunt seems bizarrely wedded despite no one really wanting it and the complete and utter failure of every other attempt at local TV in the UK.

How 17 programmes suddenly make financial sense is an interesting question – the lunchtime changes and sharing of just 10 minutes of content won’t pay for it all. However it may well be that things won’t actually be changing that much and that ITV plc already has a model in mind that it can replicate.

In 2009 Tyne Tees’s North East Tonight was only partially merged in with Border’s Lookaround. And interestingly the (admittedly strong) branding of each region was not replaced.

Every day, the first half of the show is specific to the Tyne Tees or Border regions – the two presenters pre-recording one version and presenting the other live. Then at the mid-point the two come together and the final chunk is shared. Most viewers probably don’t even realise that their local news programme is even broadcast to another region as well, whilst savings are made as the one studio in Gateshead effectively broadcasts two programmes at the same time. The combined entity is the only one (or is it two?) of ITV’s news programmes to operate in quite this way.

Whether or not this is the model ITV will follow, remains to be seen. But it seems likely it will, thanks to it not needing the expensive re-opening of now disused studios. Indeed if this is the plan used, the attempts to cut the lunchtime news bulletin could even look like pure opportunism.

The question the government and Ofcom will need to decide is whether the sacrifice is worth the result.

You Say

9 responses to this article

Andrew Wiseman 26 May 2012 at 4:18 pm

interesting to read Ofcom is considering not renewing ITV’s licence automatically. Coincidence?

Steven Oliver 1 June 2012 at 11:40 pm

Imagine the uproar there would have been if the Granada and Yorkshire regions had had their regional news programmes merged in the same way that Border and Tyne Tees did back in 2009. Yet they were perfectly happy to close down Border by the back door while retaining the Lookaround name as a sop to Border’s viewers. At the same time, the Caldbeck Scotland/Selkirk opt out also ended and the net result was a programme effectively covering an area from Stranraer to Scarborough, albeit with different names depending on where you live.

If anything, it has highlighted the sheer folly of the south of Scotland receiving its local news service from Gateshead. Yet the Borders local politicians can’t see this and claim that if the south of Scotland were to receive STV instead, they be worse off. This is 2012, not 1961, and times have changed; I can only assume that they must think that Derek Batey still presents Mr & Mrs.

Certainly a rethink is needed, but it would be a mistake to go back to the way it was before 2009. These days have passed, never to return again, and we have to look to the future.

Arthur Murgatroyd 25 June 2012 at 11:24 pm

To make this financially feasible, will all the programs be produced by ITN in London and the individual studios closed down?

Somebody should be thinking of the shareholders and not the viewers!

Alex 26 June 2012 at 10:16 pm

There is another region which operates in this way – ITV West & Westcountry. They operate exactly the same way with the first 15 minutes separate (one live, one recorded) and the final 15 minutes pan-regional. This is broadcast from ITV West in Bristol, while ITV Westcountry in Plymouth was shut down.

Unlike Tyne Tees & Border, the two programmes did not retain their individual names. The West Country Tonight replaced The West Tonight (Bristol) and Westcountry Live (Plymouth).

Alex 26 June 2012 at 10:25 pm

Forgot: in addition, Meridian Tonight now operates in the same way as West/Westcountry with the first 15 minutes broadcast in two separate editions – one for two old regions (Meridian South/Thames Valley) and one for Meridian South East.

Andrew Bowden 27 June 2012 at 1:17 pm

The main reason I picked on the Tyne Tees/Border combo was because of the fact they kept the branding separate, and if ITV go ahead with this plan, it’s the separate branding that would be the model I’d expect them to keep.

Mind you, it’s not guaranteed! Just look how many different programmes there are that are called Look North!

Glenn Aylett 6 July 2012 at 7:45 pm

With hindsight scrapping Border has been a waste of time and money. I really can’t understand why a successful and profitable local station and news service was axed. However, this was in ITV’s noughties wasteland when the broadcaster hated PSB and tried to skimp on it as much possible. Be thankful there are still regional bulletins as the buffoons on the South Bank in the noughties would have diverted money to reality shows if they could get away with it.

Arthur Murgatroyd 9 July 2012 at 11:31 pm

I do not understand why people are not looking at the numbers — this is not really a U turn at all but a further cut back in the minutes of actual regional news.

Under current arrangements viewers in Border, Tyne Tees, West, and West Country get 15 minutes of news for their region followed by 15 minutes of common interest material.

Under the proposed plan, the actual regional news element is being *reduced* by 5 minutes to 10 minutes and will be followed by material of common interest which could be shewn across not just 2 regions but 4 or 5 or even all 15 except for Wales and presumably Channel Television.

Add to that the reduction by 50% of the lunchtime news, and ITV plc will be able to fire even more staff and laugh all the way to the bank.

This is in no way a U-turn on regional news or a re-alignment to PSB values as some appear to be deluded into thinking, but a cleverly designed method to fill in more of the schedule (35 minutes) with cheaper programming dross.

Glenn Aylett 10 July 2012 at 9:54 am

Arthur

Nothing surprises me with ITV now. They should really take a close look at the ratings for ITV1, which are sometimes in single figures, simply because most of the programmes are unwatchable. People will watch a decent local news service if you provide one, but cut it back even further, then I can hear the laughter all the way to Look North.

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