The Year in Commercial Television 

7 December 2020





Cover of the yearbook

From the Commercial Television Year Book and Directory 1958, published towards the end of 1957

ITV’s second year was one of consolidation. The programme contractors for the London, Midlands and Northern stations were all getting “in the black”, with good bookings for 1958.

The year also marked a further expansion of the national ITV network. Another station — covering the important area of Scotland — was opened at the end of August, bringing the total coverage up to almost 35 million (or 69.3 per cent. of the U.K. population).

Another big landmark was the decision of all contractors to give advertisers rate protection for the year starting this September. This was welcomed in agency circles as a progressive step.

During this second year of ITV a terrific battle was witnessed in the field of audience research. This subject was the major news for more than two months.


✴ ✴ ✴ ✴ ✴


Every month was newsworthy; the new ITV industry was very much alive. Early in October — at the start of the medium’s second year — it was announced that the ITA was planning to spend thousands of pounds to help colour tv research — as part of a national experiment under the direction of the Television Advisory Committee set up by the Postmaster-General.

On November 3 the Yorkshire station came on the air and quickly became established. At the end of this month all contractors announced that no further bookings for 7-second spots would be accepted; it was considered that heavy bookings on these spots “would be harmful to the medium”.

At the close of 1956 the number of homes in the London, Midlands and Northern ITA transmission areas able to receive ITV stood at 2,700,000 — a potential audience of more than 9,300,000 viewers.




Great interest was shown in the merchandising service for advertisers on the Scottish station, announced by Roy Thomson in January.

Mid-way through February came a bombshell over the ITA’s station for South Wales and the West of England. Belated objections by airline companies — and delays by the Ministry of Housing in holding a public inquiry — threatened to make it impossible to open this station, as planned, in 1957.

Another important news item this month was the decision to allow for the first time (from February 16) transmissions in the 6-7 p.m. period; this was the result of persistent requests to the PMG by the ITA. And so the “toddler’s truce” was brought to an end.

But the major news of the month was the award to TAM [Television Audience Measurement Ltd] of a new 5-year contract for audience research by the Steering Committee, to run from July 1; this brought a storm of protest from Nielsen.

The storm was still raging in March, when the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers withdrew from the Steering Committee, which ultimately went out of existence. Within a few days, however, a new body — Television Audience Research Advisory Committee — was formed by the previous Steering Committee signatories (with the exception of the ISBA) to negotiate a new contract.



March ended on a cheerful note, with the ITA receiving the green light to proceed with the construction of its station at St. Hilary for South Wales and the West of England.

The much-debated audience research contract was signed between TARAC and TAM in April.

May provided a number of headlines. Firstly, ATV announced that rates would be stabilised from September 14, 1957 to September 12, 1958; similar announcements followed from ABC, A-R and Granada. This move followed the pattern set by Scottish Television, who guaranteed rate stability from the opening of the Scottish station.

The ITA invited applications for the Southern (Isle of Wight) station contract — and this brought the greatest number of applications for any station. During May the Authority also banned a series of 16 films planned by the Institute of Directors on “political” grounds; this led to questions in the House of Commons.

Towards the end of this month the Authority appointed a Scottish Committee.



The Commercial Television Circle held its first annual ball at Park Lane Hotel on May 29; this was a great success and may well become the social event of the ITV year.

May also broke the previous record expenditure by television advertisers. The total was £2,758,576 [£70m today, allowing for inflation], the largest product group expenditure being for household soaps (£276,064) [£7m].

On June 14 Commercial Television News front-paged the news that Sir Kenneth Clark had decided to retire as chairman of the ITA.

Tie big news in July was the appointment of a group formed by the Rank Organisation, Associated Newspapers and Amalgamated Press as the seven-day contractor for the ITA’s Southern station.

On July 17 the Advertisements (Hire Purchase) Act received the Royal Assent and comes into force on January 1, 1958. Special provisions are made for film and television advertisements, whereby “details of payment” must be shown “clearly” and “without undue prominence” to any part of it in comparison with any other part.

In August came the ITA’s second ban on advertising; here again it was on “opinion advertising” — a 15-minute film by the Roads Campaign Council which, the Authority ruled, “expressed opinions which sought to influence public policy”.



At the close of the second ITV year the ITA’s fifth station — at Black Hill — came on the air, bringing the new advertising medium to Scottish viewers.

The outlook for the coming year is bright, indeed. The station to serve South Wales and the West of England is due to come on the air in mid-December and the Southern station — covering the important South-coast market — in June, 1958.

Gross advertising expenditure is expected to exceed £20 million [£510m] in 1957 and indications are that the 1958 figure may well reach £30 million [£760m]. This expresses the confidence ITV has won as a medium from advertisers in its first two years.


The ITV Network

Map of the UK showing the 6 transmitter areas


Station Channel Transmitting power Contractor Period Commenced operating
LONDON 9 120 kW Associated-Rediffusion Mon to Fri September, 1955
      Associated TeleVision Sat & Sun  
MIDLANDS 8 200 kW Associated TeleVision Mon to Fri February, 1956
      ABC Tv Sat & Sun  
NORTH 9 100 kW Granada Mon to Fri May, 1956
(Lancashire area)     ABC Tv Sat & Sun  
NORTH 10 200 kW Granada Mon to Fri November, 1956
(Yorkshire Area)   (directional) ABC Tv Sat & Sun  
CENTRAL SCOTLAND 10 475 kW Scottish Television Complete week August, 1957
    (towards Dundee)      
    200 kW      
    (towards Ayr)      
STH WALES AND THE WEST OF ENGLAND 10 T.W.W. Complete week Scheduled to commence mid-December, 1957



❛❛Russ J Graham writes: The road from September 1955 had been rough for ITV. The first clue was on launch night, when it was noticed that most viewers, even if they had ITV-compatible sets and aerials, didn’t bother to tune in.

It got worse from there. By the time ATV and ABC opened in the Midlands, ITV was hæmorrhaging money. ABC’s parent, the Associated British Picture Corporation, told its managing director that he could lose a million pounds… and no more. Once that figure was hit, they were going to pull the plug.

The system largely survived due to Associated-Rediffusion’s deep pockets – or, more exactly, the deep pockets of British Electric Traction, its ultimate owner – the ‘Associated’ part, Associated Newspapers, had fled early on.

Granada did a deal with Rediffusion where the London company would underwrite all their productions for the first couple of years, since this was cheaper than making their own. In return, if Granada did make a profit, Rediffusion had first call on it. It was a gamble that paid off.

Whilst 1956 was still a financial disaster, the addition of ABC and Granada had helped share the costs out. With that firmer footing for the network, ATV began to turn a profit at last. ABC never lost the million pounds ABPC was fearing.

1957, as seen above, was a time for consolidation. Money was now being made, although debts were having to be paid off. But the Year Book is right to look positively at 1958. With the network adding Scottish in 1957 and TWW and Southern in 1958, the costs were further shared. The debts were paid off. Television advertising grew to the point that there were three, four, five agencies trying to book each slot. Profits started to roll in.

The licence to print money had begun.

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