ITV 1955: The view from America 

22 September 2016

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On Saturday 27 August 1955, the Daytona Beach Morning Journal carried a report from Edwin Shanke of the Associated Press about the forthcoming ITV service.

He notes that the service will begin with a wedding, that of two of the characters in Associated-Rediffusion’s Sixpenny Corner, Britain’s first daily soap opera (The Grove Family, the first soap opera on the BBC in 1954, was weekly on Friday evenings). He gives a useful potted description of how the commercial television set-up will work in the UK: quite unlike the barely regulated free-for-all in the United States, with advertisers firmly divorced from the production of the programmes themselves.

The commercials themselves will take up just six minutes of every hour of the 50 hours per week of permitted programming, plus “shopping guides” – advertising magazines as they would be known in the UK. The risk is whether television advertising will catch on, he believes, with viewers and with advertisers. The slots are expensive – $2,800 (£1,000 in 1955 money) at peak – but the ITA thinks $56 million (£20 million) will be spent by advertisers in the first year – and that figure would soon double.

The ITA’s ambitious target of opening a Birmingham station before the year is out is noted – they missed that by two months, which also pushed the timetable out for the northern region. He also notes that existing sets are Band-I only and need a converted professionally fitting to receive the Band-III transmissions – something that would soon happen in the States with the coming of UHF, to a similar reluctance by a large part of the population to bother.

Finally, Shanke has discovered that the ITA audience could be 3 million – 7 out of 10 viewers in London.

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