What will ITV-2 be like? 

29 April 2019 tbs.pm/68734

From the Daily Telegraph for Monday 2 August 1971


ALMOST certainly by 1976, the year when television is due to get its new look, Independent Television will have a second channel. The idea has been there since commercial television started, 16 years ago. Now, the vague desire has crystallised into a major policy goal.



The immediate reason for this is the growing success, in audience terms, of BBC-2. From strictly minority channel it has become, at certain times, strongly competitive. Though the two BBC channels between them still share the ratings with ITV on a 50-50 basis, the trend is sufficiently strong to alarm the major companies. To a commercial channel, wholly dependent on advertising and numbers of viewing heads, this could spell only one thing: serious recession.

But there are deeper-seated reasons, apart from mere commercial survival, why a second channel is now widely regarded is an imperative. ITV producers and programme planners have watched with envy and not a little frustration the opportunities that BBC-2 affords. They know that without the seven-year-old second channel, many of the BBC’s prestige-winning programmes could never have been made. They feel aggrieved that they too cannot try out series like “Henry VIII,” or “Civilisation” away from the pressures of the mass audience, with the possibility of transfer to the major channel as a bonus.



Brian Young (1922-2016): Headmaster of Charterhouse who became director-general of the Independent Television (later Broadcasting) Authority 1970-1982

Ideally, ITV would like a second channel to be operating by the end of 1973, or at least 1974. The omens are not propitious. It is generally agreed that preparatory work would take the better part of two years. Only 12 days ago Mr Chataway, Minister of Posts, told the Commons that he had “no immediate plans” for authorising an ITV-2. It seems far more likely that the new service would be timed to coincide with the renewal of both the BBC and Independent Television Authority charters due to take effect in 1976.

Meanwhile, Mr Brian Young, director-general of the ITA, has cautiously initialed what will doubtless become a Great Debate by inviting everyone in the industry, from chairmen to tea boys, to let him have suggestions for the second service.

In doing this he has laid down two important principles. First, that ITV-2 will be “complementary to, not competitive with,” its big brother, ITV-1. Second, that the revenue for both channels must be considered as unlikely to exceed by any substantial margin that is presently available to one.

Finance must clearly be the starting point for the working parties from both the companies and the IT A now making preliminary studies. There are conflicting views about the revenue position. One is that there is a ceiling of potential television advertising which has been reached. Others maintain that the creation of a new outlet will create new customers.


The present system

The most interesting arguments. and probably the most heated, are likely to revolve around the way the new channel is to be structured and serviced.

Under the present ITV setup, five major companies out of the total of 15 are responsible for most networked programmes. Between them, via the Network Planning Committee, they effectively decide what the bulk of ITV viewers see, subject to ITA approval. The 10 regional contribute only marginally outside their own areas.



The “majors” — Thames, London Weekend, Associated Television, Granada, and Yorkshire — are almost certain to press for this pattern to be extended broadly to ITV-2. They will argue that unless the same system includes both channels, complementary programming, which means putting light comedy opposite “World in Action” or a minority programme on fishing opposite “Coronation Street,” will not be possible.



With two channels available, they will certainly want, and will probably get, a wider outlet for their products — many of high quality. Whether they can also secure a stronger or even dominant voice in the organising of ITV-2 is another matter. One hopeful regional executive I talked to thinks the regionals should be the second network planners, and the “majors” occasional contributors. Another suggestion is for an overall ITV-2 controller, appointed by the ITA, to see fair play. This could lead to clashes with the network committee masterminding ITV-1.

There will probably be other pressures for ITV-2 to be divorced from the present ITV set-up altogether — to be given to entirely new companies or programme makers. This idea is unlikely to be regarded very seriously. One of the practical reasons for having an ITV-2 at all is the amount of spare capacity available among the present companies. Because of its fractured nature, ITV with one national channel actually produces more programme hours than the BBC does with two.



The amount of “hardware” — cameras, tele-cine and video tape machines and so on — considerably exceeds that of the BBC. So does studio space. Southern, largest of the regionals, has recently built new studios with twice the capacity it currently required in confident expectation of the needs of ITV-2. Even a large company like Granada, by working seven days a week, could probably increase programme output by 40 or 50 per cent. With extra staff and existing equipment, ITV could provide programmes for the second channel at perhaps a quarter the present running cost of ITV-1.

Half that cost — about £10 million [£152 million in 2019, allowing for inflation] — would have to come from new advertising revenue. The other half, say the companies, could be found at a stroke by dropping the rest of the levy.

“The important thing,” says Denis Forman, joint managing director of Granada and present chairman of the Network Planning Committee, “is that in this country we have the chance to avoid the American head-on situation of three equal channels, all under compulsion to compete all the time with the same kind of programmes. We can create a genuinely integrated service which will offer the viewer real alternatives on ITV as on BBC.”

Kif Bowden-Smith writes:

This was the second time ITV-2 had been under serious consideration. The first time was in 1963, when the then-Conservative government said it would approve the scheme if it won the 1964 general election. At that time, the ITA began to make plans for the build-up of a second network and the 1964 ITV contracts had provisions for ITV-2 written in to them. The 1963-4 scheme was to duplicate the ‘minor’ or ‘regional’ companies in their own areas, but for either new entrants or the existing companies to move around the map – for instance, Rediffusion 2 in the north or Granada 2 in the midlands. Were the existing contractors to do this, the chances were that the weekday/weekend splits on ITV-1 in the north and the midlands – if not London itself – would be abolished.

The whole plan was scuppered when Labour won the 1964 election and cancelled ITV-2 (they had moved away from their 1950s policy of also cancelling ITV-1) in favour of promoting an educational BBC-3 channel, which would broadcast programmes for their proposed ‘University of the Air’. However, the BBC priced this plan high enough – with a consequent huge increase in the licence fee – that the Department of Education and Science and the Postmaster-General got cold feet.

The incoming Conservative government in 1970 had been careful not to promise ITV-2, although they did promise, and provide, Independent Local Radio. But they left the question of an ITV-2 on the table, whether or not Mr Chataway was ‘minded’ to give it the go ahead or not. With the decision postponed but not cancelled, Chataway deregulated broadcasting hours as compensation.

As the 1970s progressed, all manner of ideas for ITV-2 were discussed in parliament, in government, in the papers and in ITV itself. From 1974, the new Labour government’s Annan Committee had slowly decided on a Fourth Channel, independent of both ITV and the Independent Broadcasting Authority, operating in a regulated open-access style by a new Open Broadcasting Authority (OBA). When that government fell in 1979 and the Conservatives returned to power, the nascent OBA was in turn abandoned and the Fourth Channel (outside of Wales) was handed to the IBA, with the ‘open access’ element – transformed into ‘independent producers’ – intact.

Ident recreations and impressions created by Dave Jeffery [YT] [TW] [WWW]

You Say

2 responses to this article

mel sharpe 29 April 2019 at 1:43 pm

How sad ITV 2 turned out like it did.

Paul Mason 1 May 2019 at 1:45 pm

TV sets were long prepared for an ITV2 channel but it was not until November 1982 that Channel 4 and S4C came to be.
Don’t forget the 1970s were times of great inflation and general economic difficulty which disrupted many aspects of life.

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