From ITV to plc 

3 September 2005

It’s funny to think that in 50 years, we have gone almost full circle. On 22 September 1955, Independent Television began with just 2 licensees, Associated Rediffusion and ATV London, known at the time as ABC.

Over the next 7 years, further licences were awarded, until the network was completed by Teledu Cymru. For about 6 years, the newly completed network was allowed to settle in and find its footing, before it was all change, and new franchisees were replacing old favourites.

For the next 20 years, the regulator focused the attentions of the ITV companies on being regional powerhouses. Whereas the original franchisees came across as mini networks, or BBC-wannabes, the post 1968 breed of ITV seemed to be single channels for a single region. Whilst there had been ITV companies of this ilk, pre-1968, they were outside the major regions. Westward, Southern, Anglia, Tyne Tees and the like were all stations outside the big companies that produced most “Independent Television” programming.

There was however one mini-network post 1968, a network created by frequencies and locations. HTV had a General Service on the VHF Frequencies, and separate programming for the West of England, and Wales on UHF. That was the exception, however, rather than the rule.

1982 saw the regionalisation trend pushed a little further, with the old Southern region becoming TVS and being split in two, South and South East – both under the same company, but treated slightly differently from each other. The old ATV Midlands region, under the guise of Central Independent Television was eventually split into 3 regions. West, East and South. The only real difference between the regions was news and advertising. But this was to set the pattern for the next set of franchise changes in 1993.

In 1993, almost every region had sub-regions, whether it was full news programmes, or just opt-out bulletins. Bu, this was a trend that was in many ways dying a slow painful death at the very hands of the same companies introducing these changes.

In 1989, Sky launched Direct-To-Home Satellite Television for the UK, and suddenly, the ITV companies began to see their regional diversity as a barrier to their continued success. Sky and the other satellite channels did not have the restrictions placed on them that the ITV companies did, and the ITV companies started lobbying for relaxing the restrictions.

The result of this lobbying was the Broadcasting Act of 1990, which gave ITV almost everything it wanted, even if it didn’t all come immediately. A lighter-touch regulator, with less teeth than the ITA or IBA, the ability to merge companies, into possibly one single company, and less restrictions on what ITV could show, and indeed how it could make money.

Since 1993, we have seen a gradual decrease in the number of companies in ITV. Yorkshire and Tyne Tees merged into one company, Granada bought LWT, Carlton bought Central, then later Westcountry. HTV, Anglia and Meridian became one company in United News and Media, Scottish and Grampian merged to become SMG.

Slowly, these new entities started to merge as well, until we were left with what we have now. One ITV company owning 11 different franchises, SMG with two franchises, and two lone independents: UTV in Northern Ireland, and Channel in the Channel Islands. We’ve almost come full circle. ITV now also has 3 other channels on digital TV, one failed channel in the ITV Sport Channel, and 2 more channels planned for launch.

Were a lot of these changes absolutely necessary? Not in my view. ITV could have done so much more, without needing to merge all the way. Programme libraries that ITV have built up over the years could have seen the light of day on satellite and cable channels that could have been provided by the individual ITV companies themselves, even back in the 1980s, if they had had the vision, but like so many other channels, they failed to see where the future could be taking them.

Nowadays , we have hundreds of channels spewing out dubious competitions with one question lasting for 2 hours or more, horrid infomercials repeated 200 times a day, and late night call in shows where the female presenters wear just about as little as possible, and encourage their audience to talk dirty to them.

And because ITV has become a fully commercial channel, rather than a commercially funded public service channel, they themselves signalled the downward direction by their lobbying for less regulation back in the 1980s. So you see, ITV really have themselves to blame for what we all have to put up with these days on television today.

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1 response to this article

garry 10 August 2016 at 4:59 pm

i wonder if the collapse of Regional I.T.V came about with first the start of Carlton Communications winning The Thames Franchise in 1993 and then 8 years latter the closure of On/I.T.V. Digital Then Carlton along with Granada buying up the Regional I.T.V. Network and structure. Over 14 years.. Good thing about I.T.V PLC Sports programmes Networked across the whole of I.T.V and I.T.V. 4 Good thing about Regional I.T.V. Programmes like [Here in the South] Out of Town [Presented by the late great] Jack Hargreaves starting only on Southern Television but growing to become one of I.T.V.”s most popular programmes. My last post before I go to Disabled Assisted Living. [Against my will] Good bye Transdiffusion As the late Bing Crosby sang Thanks for the Memories. GOD BLESS!

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