24 May 2004

ITV’s presentation habits date, literally, from 1955. But, says Ian Beaumont, all that is being swept away – but modernity doesn’t suit them.

Broadcasters are very image conscious, even more so in this competitive multichannel environment. Even back in the days when the BBC was the only game in town, they were so keen to maintain a very particular image. Then when the ITV companies started from 1955 onwards, different images came to the forefront.

Associated-Rediffusion wanted to maintain a very ‘BBC’ style, formal image, whilst ATV ran a more informal, more commercial image. Granada was very dour, serious and Northern, whilst Westward was more reflective of the South West of England – relaxed, easy going, warm and friendly.

ITV companies came and went, but individual companies tended to keep their own image and, sometimes, regions actually would impress their own image onto a new TV company.

Such happened with TSW from 1982 onwards, when their fresh image got toned down to eventually become very similar to the company it had taken over from, Westward Television.

However, at around the same time in the Midlands, Central was shaking off an image that had been with ITV almost literally since its birth. Just two days after Associated Rediffusion launched ITV on 22nd September 1955, Associated Television, under its original name of Associated Broadcasting Company, had started providing a service for London at the weekends.

Just weeks later it was forced to change its name to ATV, but from that beginning came about one of the most successful ITV companies of its day. The man largely behind ATV, Lew Grade, would go from near bankruptcy to being a multimillionaire, and become UK’s first real media mogul.

ATV had built its success on developing network programming, from its programming bases in Birmingham and London. With its ITC production arm, putting together programmes for the UK and US markets, ATV had network production ability and an international reach that few UK broadcasters can currently match.

Although its network programming was superb and second to none, companies such as Westward, despite not having a huge network presence, produced regional programming that was second to none in their own region and could have easily beaten ATV’s regional programming.

ATV were given, in effect, two warnings to improve their regional backbone, one warning in 1963, which would lead to the two ATV services being labelled separately as ATV London and ATV Midlands, and another in 1967, after being awarded a 7 day Midlands contract by the Independent Television Authority.

However, the IBA in 1980 decided that ATV’s regional backbone hadn’t been strengthened enough, and ATV were forced into a venture whereby they were 49% owners of the franchise and local Midlands companies formed the other 51%, leading to the birth of Central Independent Television. It had one basic mission – to improve upon ATV’s rather poor regional performance.

Central made regional programming that was much better than ATV’s, and it still managed to live up to ATV’s standards in network programming. In short, Central had become the consummate ITV company post 1982. However, Central was swallowed up into a Carlton image that wasn’t particularly strong, and in some ways, still isn’t strong or given a lot of credit.

These days, ITV is more interested in network programming than regional programming, something that, if it was still around today, ATV would have fitted nicely into.

Indeed, ATV probably would have been in the centre of this ITV, although Lew Grade’s personal idea of worrying about how the programme worked first and how much it cost second would not have gone down well.

The fundamental ITV image that we face today is an image of a desperate, commercial, ultra-safe broadcaster, unwilling to take the kind of risks Lew Grade and others took when ITV first launched.

Lew was the man who fired the first host of Sunday Night At The London Palladium, at the time, the biggest show on TV. You didn’t get on the wrong side of Lew Grade without paying the penalty. Could you imagine Michael Green of Carlton, or Charles Allen of Granada saying to Ant and Dec that they were fired?

Jim Hytner believes that ITV’s current image is old fashioned, and has worked to give ITV a brand new image based around their talent. This is not dissimilar to a look that was seen on Channel 5 around 1999 and 2000. This isn’t really surprising, when you consider that Jim Hytner was at Channel 5 around that time.

Hytner has tried to create a unified ITV1 image that will work right across the nation. This will be the third attempt to create a corporate ITV1 image. The 1989 corporate image was left unused by a few regions, including TSW, TVS and Scottish TV, whilst Central and Yorkshire made modifications to theirs or even used it in conjunction with the regional logo in their own presentation creations.

The 1999 corporate image was usurped by the Carlton owned regions, who had a look of their own. It was also not used by UTV and the two SMG franchises, Scottish TV and Grampian. Channel had their own unique variant of the look, and LWT quickly had their own ident created to replace the corporate look. Yorkshire and Tyne Tees had their own local idents created to introduce regional programmes.

Will this 2002 version of corporatising ITV1 be any more successful than the previous attempts? Well, it is not expected to penetrate the UTV and SMG franchises, so that would make 3 franchises not using the look.

I imagine Yorkshire would be reluctant to completely lose their Chevron from their presentation, and LWT might not like the fact that all London regional presentation on ITV1 will be under an ITV1 London banner, even at weekends.

Two other franchises might break away from this corporate look. Channel being one, as their links to London are far more tenuous than most other franchises. The other may well be Carlton Westcountry.

Carlton have done much in the past 3 years since they rebranded Westcountry to do what Westward did and reach out into the community of the South West of England. Whether the franchise breaks away will literally depend on whether viewers watch more or less ITV1 as a result of the new prominence of the network brand.

If viewers start deserting ITV1 in the South West, the advertisers will most certainly be applying pressure for change.

All in all, I am not expecting this new corporate look to have much more success than its predecessors. Whether indeed ITV1’s new look will be a success with viewers is definitely open to question and we don’t have long to wait to find out.

ITV’s image was made in its early years, by its programmes and it is still programmes that are creating ITV1’s image in the minds of viewers.

Unless ITV1 can take the chances that the early companies took, ITV1 will continue to suffer image problems for many years to come, and those kind of problems will not be solved by a simple change of idents.

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