Opening shots in TV war 

9 November 2020

Bidders line up with vision for the future



Liverpool Echo masthead

From the Liverpool Echo for 16 May 1991

THEY’RE off – the great franchise race is on with the two North West contenders neck and neck out of the stalls.

But while Phil Redmond’s North West Television was champing at the bit yesterday morning, Granada looked anxious in the early scramble.

Details of 18 months of intense behind-the-scenes negotiations by Phil Redmond to set up the North West Television bid were only leaked at the 11th hour.

Although Granada chief David Plowright claimed he had expected a rival bid from Phil Redmond all along, a hastily-convened press conference proved there were jitters in the rival camp.

Granada Flying Start advertisement

After launching Granada’s three-day Flying Start business festival, Mr Plowright got straight down to the business of the bid.

He lead the press, Pied Piper-style, into a huddle in a corner of the exhibition and disappeared under a forest of microphones.

Yards away, fascinated festival visitors munched their sausages on sticks in bemused wonder.

The rival bid was no surprise, said Mr Plowright,

Ha didn’t even consider losing the franchise, and didn’t increase Granada’s bid when he learned of North West TV’s interest.

But the kid gloves came off just once when he turned disdainfully to one reporter and asked in withering tones: “Would you swop Coronation Street for Brookside?”

Meanwhile, in one of Manchester’s newest hotels, the scene was for the new kids in town to saddle up and get their show on the road.

They were given a rough ride from sceptical Manchester newsmen.

But Phil Redmond managed to hang on in there and once into his stride he silenced his critics and earned respect along the way.

Liz Dawn (top); Paul Usher (bottom)

Vera Duckworth, Coronation Street; Barry Grant, Brookside

Yes, this is a serious bid, yes there is serious money behind us, and yes, we believe it’s time to shake up the TV picture and we’rae the ones to do it, he told reporters.

He even managed to calm fears ever Granada’s flagship soap when he said there was was room for Coronation Street and Brookside.

But while this particular gallop ended with honours more or less shared, there was no doubt that as to the stakes increase, the race down the home straight come October will result in a grandstand finish.


Redmond vows big shake-up in the region’s schedules


MERSEY Television boss Phil Redmond has £80m at his disposal as he sets out to seize control of the giant Granada TV franchise.

He pledged to deliver a top class regionalised service — including local community-produced programmes — as part of a big shake-up to the schedules.

Mr Redmond, 41, heads the bid unveiled yesterday by the new independent company, North West Television.

North West Television has the backing of a £1bn-plus [£2.3bn now, allowing for inflation] consortium.

Funds amounting to £80m [£185m] have been pooled by the consortium, which includes Trinity International Holdings — parent company of the Liverpool Echo; Yorkshire Television; Tyne Tees Television; Mersey Television; the 3i investment group; and development capital company, Causeway Capital.

Revealing the bid for the franchise which Granada has held for 31 years, North West Television chief executive, Mr Redmond, rejected claims that no-one could match Granada’s reputation for quality.

Granada chief David Plowright had said earlier that rivals would over-extend themselves in bidding for the franchise which would result in cuts in home grown programmes leading to cheap TV imports.

But Mr Redmond slammed the claim as “disinformation and scaremongering,” saying: “Between us and Yorkshire Television we’ve got plenty of quality, but then that takes us into the murky area of what is the definition of quality.

“Different people like different programmes. I would like to see everything on television made in the UK, but you have to appreciate that people enjoy seeing imported programmes like American and Australian series.

But he promised: “The cash will be spent where the talent is.”

As yesterday’s Independent Television Commission’s noon deadline slipped by, Granada and North West Television emerged as the only sealed bids submitted to the TV watchdog for the North West franchise.

It ended 18 months of secret negotiations between Mr Redmond — the brains behind Brookside and Grange Hill — and the massive consortium.


Men behind a table surrounded by journalists with microphones

Mersey TV boss phil Redmond, with Philip Graph of Trinity International Holdings, outlines plans to change the shape of the region;s television. The successful bidder will not be known until October


Outlining his plans to reporters in a Manchester hotel, yesterday, he said North West TV would reflect the “arc of prosperity” that researchers forecast for a region stretching from Chester to Macclesfield.

His company aims to provide up to 10 hours of programmes for the ITV network, while at the same time quadrupling existing regional programming to nearly 60 hours.

Local news is a strong element of North West TV’s bid and mobile news crews would cover the whole region feeding reports into a hi-tech newsroom.

The head office would be based in Mersey Television’s Childwall head-quarters, although he said Manchester’s position as the region’s economic capital warrants a major presence, while news centres will be set up in Lancaster, Blackpool, Preston, Bolton, Macclesfield and Chester.

He dismissed regional jealousies, saying: “The reason it’s in Liverpool is because we live here — don’t forget, this is the first time this region will have a television company that reflects the region in name.”

The consortium’s aim was to break the domination of a single city and ensure that every saleable community in the region is included.

This would involve community access programmes as well as innovative features produced by students and local educational establishments.

North West’s schedules. which will be open to public scrutiny, also include:

  • An hour-long flagship evening news programme
  • A business and arts focus
  • Timeshare television, guaranteeing every town in the region access to a regular programme
  • Regional programmes broadcast through the night modelled on a free form radio format
  • Alternative religious productions
  • Comprehensive sports previews

Mr Redmond said the new company would employ around 400 full-time staff, while at any one time up to 1,000 people could be working for North West Television.

The ITC is expected to announce the successful bidder for the North West franchise in October.


Liverpool Echo comment

Bidding for TV stardom

North West Television ident

[Transdiffusion recreation]

AFTER years in which too many important institutions have drifted away from Merseyside towards Manchester, the prospect of making Liverpool the region’s television capital is creating great interest and excitement.

Success for the new North West Television company in winning the right to provide the region’s independent programmes would be a tremendous fillip for Liverpool, and a boost to the confidence of everyone on Merseyside.

And there is no reason why it should not happen.

The Liverpool-based group have submitted their bid for one reason – to win.

We must declare an interest because the Echo’s parent company is part of the consortium behind North West Television.

That will not stop us seeking to be fair when reporting both sides of the franchise battle which is now underway.

After the excitement of top-secret bids being revealed for the first time yesterday, viewers and the public generally now get their chance to study the proposals and air their views.

There will be great debate over what sort of programmes the new station intends to show, and what would happen to existing TV favourites if Granada lost the bid battle.

Putting that aside for the time being, we believe that both the prestige and the jobs that North West Television would bring would be a huge boost to Merseyside’s morale.



❛❛Russ J Graham writes: Oh boy. NWT’s manifesto for the region sounds… terrible. It seems to have been written to refight the 1982 refranchising, unaware that the rules have drastically changed. It might have turned the heads of the old Independent Broadcasting Authority – it sounds very much up their street – but perhaps for the Border, Tyne Tees or Wales and West franchises. For one of the Big 5, the backbones of ITV, the companies whose existence meant that the channel worked financially and culturally, it’s a bit too local even for them.

And it commits the sin that Granada’s last rival, Merseyvision, first committed: “We’ve spotted a bias towards Manchester, and so we’ll replace it with a bias towards Liverpool.” Replacing one bias with another is no improvement. No wonder the Manchester-based journalists in the hotel conference room gave him a rough ride.

But this isn’t 1982, and all bets were off. The new Broadcasting Act had tried to replace the “unfair” beauty contest method of selecting ITV franchise holders with one that simply looked at how deep the applicants’ pockets were. This, it was soon realised, would produce terrible television and cause bankruptcies that could kill ITV. So much for milking ITV for every penny: HM Treasury would get nothing at all after the third or fourth company went under taking the network with it.

Instead, new hurdles were added. First, the IBA’s replacement, the Independent Television Commission, would look at the quality of the application; anyone failing that step were thrown out there and then.

Next, the ITC would open the sealed bids of the remaining contestants and rank them by how much they were prepared to put in Norman Lamont’s safe.

Then it would balance the bids against what profit each company was likely to make. If they were obviously going to not only make no profit but also fall deeply into the red and fail, they were out too.

Granada knew it had won on quality grounds. With programme-makers still in charge of the company (but not for much longer, sadly) it also knew how much programmes cost to make and what a reasonable profit would look like. It bid £9m.

North West Television bid £35m. The ITC failed it on quality grounds – honestly, that proposed schedule for a major company in 1990s ITV? – so we’ll never know if it would’ve passed the financial tests. My gut feeling is that it wouldn’t: £35m is just too high, even for a profitable area like the North West. The high bid looks like the hand of Yorkshire Television, who also gambled on a high bid for their own region. They won, but the ITC had a torrid debate on whether they had overbid and failed the final hurdle. It appears to have been a close decision to let them continue.

North West Television’s application was damaged by internal ITV politics. Granada, fearful that Yorkshire and Tyne Tees would bid against them, sponsored North East Television to distract them. Yorkshire and Tyne Tees were doing the same with North West Television’s bid against Granada. They really weren’t actually interested in winning, and it showed. This was Redmond’s baby, with Trinity’s money behind it: YTV and TTT were really there just for show – if it had won, the plans that YTV and TTT had to merge once all of this was over would have been left in disarray because their holdings in NWT would’ve broken the Department of National Heritage’s rules against cross-ownership in ITV.

One really has to laugh at the Echo‘s editorial for stating “[t]hat will not stop us seeking to be fair when reporting both sides of the franchise battle which is now underway” when admitting to their membership of the consortium, given the text of the main feature, which was so pro-NWT and anti-Granada as to be ridiculous. Their coverage of the franchise round, through to and beyond 16 October, would not improve.

You Say

2 responses to this article

Chad 23 February 2021 at 9:02 am

Unlike NWTV, North East TV’s bid passed on both the quality threshold and the financial plan.

Jason James 22 July 2021 at 9:31 am

This entire piece is nonsense. Raymond Fitzwalter acknowledges in his book that the YTV/TTTV involvement was a reaction to Granada’s aggressive move against Tyne Tees and not the other way around. For their part TTTV’s idea for getting around the ownership problem was for them to bid against Granada with YTV backing, but YTV vetoed that – Redmond was brought on board later.

Your comment

Enter it below

A member of the Transdiffusion Broadcasting System
Liverpool, Friday 17 May 2024