It is now three months since News at Ten ended, sparking a major
overhaul in the way news is presented across all the networks. Among
opinion-formers, the changes, introducing the 6.30pm ITV Evening News
and 11pm Nightly News, are widely held to have failed. And, yes, I still
miss News at Ten.
I asked Carat Insight to do some comparative research and discussed the
changes with key advertising figures who were gung ho about the
My first conclusion is that, while the public perception is a trifle
unfair, ITV - and to some extent ITN - has a major PR problem on its
hands and it is going to get worse. What should it do? ITV’s public
stance currently is to keep a low profile. It’s defensive, but
It can argue, as the ITC recognised, that the new schedules will take a
full year to bed down. That the audience is still confused about what to
expect, but that freedom to run two-hour dramas and films is
appreciated, though ITV needs to arm itself with research on that point.
The ITC is bound to ask searching questions about whether classic News
at Ten viewers, upmarket males, have been lost.
Its problem, and it may be temporary, is that news programme audiences
have risen during most of the past three months (the Kosovo effect).
BBC1’s Nine O’Clock News audience during April was 17 per cent up on
But ITV could do more to correct the statistical unfairnesses which
abound by comparing, say, ratings of seven million for the 10pm slot in
the weeks before News at Ten was abolished, with 6.5 million
ITV is praying that new entertainment and adult factual programmes will
start to come good, in both critical and ratings terms, so that 10pm
disasters, such as Mr and Mrs with Julian Clary fade from the
Advertisers are holding their fire - although there is no sign yet of
the additional tens of millions of pounds of extra revenue anticipated
by ITV barons from a more populist schedule.
As Christine Walker, the combative managing partner of Walker Media,
said last week, ITV needs to recognise that pushing news to the margins
has not proved a great move and is not the solution to ITV’s sliding
Carat’s research shows a pretty mixed outcome: higher adult audiences
for the 10pm slot on Wednesday and Friday, but lower on Monday and (of
course) Thursday, when the new, flabby current affairs hour, Tonight, is
run and ruthlessly targeted by BBC1.
Across the weekdays, there has been no real change or gain, only a sense
of loss. One positive sign is that the 11pm Nightly News has a younger
audience than News at Ten - but with two-thirds of its ratings. Axing
News at Ten has produced a disappointing and messy result.