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