Northern woes 

1 January 2002

Recently ITV1 broadcast “The Record of the Year”, the annual vote in which the public decides which was the best single of that particular year. At the end of this year’s edition, after the sponsorship message, a sequence was played which showed all the winners so far in the history of the show. At the end of this pleasing sequence we heard “…and in 2001 the winner is…on the Frank Skinner Show tomorrow…”. Yes, ITV1’s rigidly automated system cut off the video and went straight to a trailer. The timing was so comical it only served to highlight the problem with ITV1 and in particular the regions of the north that the Leeds Centre controls. (By the way, it was S Club 7, if you were interested)

In the mid 1990s, as part of a cost cutting exercise, the recently-merged Tyne Tees and Yorkshire centralised their continuity departments in Leeds. In 1998 the Granada and then Border joined the club, and since then us up north have been “treated” to a rigid, shoddy service that insults the regionalism that ITV was set up for. The laughable phrase “and now the news from our region” may now have been consigned to history thanks to differing start times for the different regional news programmes, but the problems don’t end there. The BBC, Channel 4 and even Channel 5 put the entire presentational output to shame because it is so monotonous and boring in the way it conveys programme information.

Over the years all channels have used various methods to promote their broadcasts. These have included trailers of video information, a voiceover on a still with programme name, a menu of the night ahead or in the future and simple mentions in the pre-programme idents. All but the first and last have been dropped by the Leeds centre, and it certainly makes for uninspiring viewing. Even the tradition of a voiced programme slide before a commercial break to tell viewers what is coming up next has now been abolished. This surely must be the most contradictory aspect of the system, seeing as ITV1 has recently been very aggressive in keeping viewers.

Instead, this kind of promotion by a live voice is now done entirely whilst the ident for that particular region is on screen. Increasingly desperate methods are being used to make this shoddy solution of minimised continuity announcements seem effective. They include fading up the logo of the particular channel being promoted in the corner of the screen, underneath the logo for the channel you’re actually watching. It’s usually a misguided promotion for something of a completely different time and scope – whilst BBC-1 may direct Neighbours viewers over to BBC-2 for The Simpsons at six o’clock, ITV1 will tell Heartbeat’s loyal audience that The Jerry Springer Show is on ITV2 tomorrow at 12:55am.

Live announcing also appears to becoming scarce. Whilst I witnessed a brave announcer coping with a breakdown at the beginning of Popstars early this year by using the time-honoured method of reading from TV Times, I’m told that Yorkshire viewers once had an announcement at 7pm one evening saying “and now the nightmare continues in Emmerdale”. This was on 11 September – either the link was recorded and someone didn’t check it, or the person on duty didn’t think to check her script. I still haven’t decided which is more sickening.

The idents themselves are somewhat pitiful. In 1999 ITV’s “Heart of Life” slogan was extended to idents, of which were provided to the regions who agreed to use them in the same style across the country. They consisted of a short film sequence of some kind of every day life, culminating with a heart being formed out of something in the scene and then a fade into the ident itself. Another option was the same music, but featuring the ident being formed by horizontal lines, and another was a simple cut to the ident already formed, both for time-saving purposes. By 2001 however the Leeds centre had stopped using the video sequences and were simply using the last, very poor option, so as to co-ordinate the regions better. Whilst this undoubtedly pleased the directors it looked terrible on screen – a cut to an already formed and largely static ident was something BBC-2 and Channel 4 did fifteen years ago – not supposedly Britain’s most watched channel. Recently a new version has been made which involves the horizontal lines forming up the ident whilst the announcer is speaking, but still no music to fanfare the logo.

It isn’t as if these problems are all caused by the multi-region set up. Carlton in particular has far superior idents and general presentational style. I even saw a “next” programme slide whilst watching the West Country version last year. But the presentation department at Yorkshire just doesn’t seem to be bothered anymore. Last month on EMC, fondly remembered Granada announcer Colin Weston expressed his disappointment in the dull nature of presentation in the northwest since it departed to Leeds. He’s absolutely right, and the ironic thing is that if they would only have a bit of variety in the way things are promoted it might actually entice the audience to keep watching rather than treating trailers as adverts and mentally switching off. But then what would I know? I’m only a viewer…

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