London’s news 

1 January 2004

The London skyline from the South Bank offices of LWT has been the backdrop for regional news programmes in London for well over a decade.

Soon it will be seen no more. One of the first announced casualties of the Carlton and Granada merger will be the loss off London News Network’s contract to provide regional news to Carlton and LWT. Instead the service will be provided by ITN from their offices on the other side of the Thames.

The cost savings are obvious – the new run service can share facilities and technical resources as well as having access to ITN’s newsgathering operation, whilst retaining a standalone identity and its own editorial team.

Whilst there have been concerns raised about one company running both London and national news services, it is unlikely there will be any real problems. ITN is well adept to running multiple news services, providing as it does Five News and Channel 4 News as well as bulletins for ITV and the ITV News Channel, and it seems unlikely that London’s regional news provision will be particularly disadvantaged by the move.

That LNN should be loosing its plum news contract is perhaps not that surprising – it is a company whose time has come to an end.

Throughout most of its time on air, LWT’s weekend news provision was limited. For many years, weekend bulletins consisted of just an announcer reading a script, whilst Friday’s evening bulletin was provided on LWT’s behalf by the newsroom of their weekday competitor, Thames. It wasn’t until 1988 that LWT actually launched its own proper news service.

Four years on, and that service was to be changed again. The London News Network was formed to provide news services for LWT and its new weekday counterpart, Carlton. It was built on one of the mantras of business: keep costs low. So why run two newsrooms for ITV in London, when you can run one instead?

And so it came to be that on 1 January 1993, the very first edition of London Tonight was broadcast from LWT’s South Bank studios. The programme was produced by the London News Network – a joint venture, 50% owned by each franchise holder.

Being an expert in London’s news, LNN (as it was soon shortened to) was naturally well placed to play a key role in providing regional current affairs programmes. Similarly, the London Sport Network was also formed as an off-shot for local sport coverage. LSN soon became ISN, providing sports programming for the whole network, including all of ITV’s football output.

LNN’s role wasn’t to be just programming though, and the same business logic that saw the two join forces for news programming, saw a similar arrangement for continuity and presentation. With different idents and announcers, it may have looked like the companies were worlds apart, but the in reality Carlton and LWT’s announcers all sat in the same chair; the idents played out from the same room.

Whilst Yorkshire-Tyne Tees was “trailblazing” with joint ownership, and regional programming shared between two different regions, LNN was paving the way forward for two independent ITV contractors working together for mutual benefit. In many ways, it was the beginning of the end of a regional ITV.

It set a model for how things could be done in the future, and as ITV company after ITV company slowly fell into the hands of Granada Media and Carlton, it was increasingly playing the role of a bridge between the two organisations.

High profile programming like The Premiership was produced not by either company, but by their joint venture, as was the ill-fated Nationwide League coverage for the ITV Sport Channel that was to play its part in the demise of ITV Digital. ISN’s sports expertise played its part in getting the contract, but it also prevented political arguments between ITV’s two giants.

The merger of Carlton and Granada however will see the end of the need for LNN. Its news department is already on its way out; the rest of it will no doubt be dismantled soon. LNN as a catchall company fits uneasily with the production/broadcast/news split of the proposed ITV plc. Its roles will of course still be there, but the need for a single company to do them will be gone.

LNN’s passing is merely symbolic of how much ITV has changed in the last fifteen years – it wasn’t that long ago that Thames and LWT were barely acknowledging each other’s existence on screen. Its departure now won’t be noticed by many, which is pretty much what it did since day one – sitting in the background just doing its job.

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