ITV 1955: The view from Australia 

22 September 2016 tbs.pm/9365

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Bruce Grant of Melbourne’s The Age newspaper reports on the soon-to-launch ITV from London on 20 September 1955.

Grant is the first of journalists across this feature to be pessimistic about Independent Television’s prospects. He seems pleased with the ITA’s determination to vet the advertising and make it stick to rules that advertising is not, historically, wont to obey. At the same time, he fears that the advertisers will push against those rules, trying to find ways around them and hoping for a looser interpretation.

But the finances of the new system worry him. £1,000 sterling a minute (£25,000 in today’s money) is a lot to ask, but ITV needs that much in order to survive. He quotes a report that says there’s £280 million advertising market in Britain, of which the press takes £160 million. The market will grow – to £350 million – but television’s take will only be £20 million, rising to £35 million in 1958. The companies will have to prepare to lose £2-3 million in the interim, and the press will have to learn to live with a large reduction in their advertising sales over time.

Still, £8,500,000 has already been booked with the two new companies (he doesn’t mention that most of this was on a pay-per-viewer basis and thus most of it would be returned to the advertisers next month), and the Daily Mail has a slice of Associated-Rediffusion, so it all balances out.

Grant is pessimistic about viewership as well. The other reports have looked at 7 in 10 sets being tuned in as being the likely total for the first night; Grant thinks that the £30 (this figure is more than twice the figure quoted in the American paper) required to have a Band-III converter fitted to each set is too off-putting.

However, the article ends with some optimism, if only for how ITV will cause the BBC Television Service to improve. It’s hard to think of it today, where the BBC is the world leader for news provision, but before 1955, the news was dull, slow and out-of-date even as it went out. The coming of ITN forced the Corporation to invest in television news, to everyone’s benefit. The BBC’s programming will get lighter, he thinks, while at the same time remaining unchallenged for the real public service programming like religion and children’s programming. The number of “give-away” shows (quiz shows as we would now call them) was expected to increase, to the pleasure of viewers and the annoyance of critics.

Drama will remain the BBC’s crown jewels – it’s not something the new ITV shows any promise in. An extra £1 million will go into programming and that spend will quickly be seen, despite ITV having hoovered up many of the biggest stars. Overall, the main effect of the start of Independent Television will not be the introduction of choice or more variety; it will be to strengthen the BBC.

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