MEDIA: Nuances of News at Ten battle make interesting viewing

Abolishing News at Ten by January, as ITV proposes, was never going to be an easy task, given both its relative popularity with audiences and the regard politicians hold it in. That is why the way the process is being handled is a fascinating campaign to watch.

Abolishing News at Ten by January, as ITV proposes, was never going

to be an easy task, given both its relative popularity with audiences

and the regard politicians hold it in. That is why the way the process

is being handled is a fascinating campaign to watch.



I’d give the ITV Network about six and a half marks out of ten so far

for its PR: not perfect - the story leaked three days prematurely - but

enough, so far, to press its case home. However, lots can go wrong in

the next eight weeks of public consultation and lobbying - despite ITV’s

intention to plant a trail of good news ’quality programming’

stories.



The key point is that the new executive team running ITV has wised

up.



Together with the three power blocs (Carlton, United News and Media and

Granada) they have learnt their lessons well from the previous abortive

discussions five years ago, prematurely leaked only months into a new

franchise round. It looked as if greedy new media barons were tearing up

their promises before the ink was barely dry.



This time ITV prepared its case with meticulous detail, studied audience

patterns and reactions and spent months rationally debating the risks

with potential opponents, such as ITN (whose cautionary research showing

how News at Ten was a trigger for upmarket men to actively switch to ITV

caused a temporary rethink).



Gaining the tacit support of ITN and its key presenters and journalists

was crucial. This inclusive process also embraced the Independent

Television Commission, which must agree on the switch. The impression of

agonising deliberation, dragged out over a year slowly accustomed the

media, and therefore the public, to assume a big shake-up. The press has

been divided.



And ITV has struck just when the ITC is being rocked by sustained

industry calls for an end to its detailed regulatory powers.



What astonished me, as the year rolled on, was the steely refusal to

compromise. Half way fudges, such as curtailing all news at a neat 10.30

pm juncture were ruled out. The decision to opt for 6.30 pm, only just

within prime time, with a catch-up news at 11 pm is bold: within the

formal letter but not the spirit of the contracts.



But there are weaknesses too. ITV Network chief executive Richard Eyre,

formative years spent in advertising, lavished attention on his

paymasters - advertisers and agencies - not enough on the opinion

formers.



In contrast, the politicians have not been wooed with such ardour. Eyre

is genuinely surprised at the scale of political reactions, that Tony

Blair opposed the move. He’s been naive. Hence my six and a half

mark.



I’m with Blair: I hope News at Ten wins a reprieve. But I just don’t

sense either a big wall of public opposition for the ITC to shelter

behind, or any intention from ITV to back down.



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