The ITV giant 

22 May 2023 tbs.pm/77865

An exclusive interview with Lord Aylestone.

 

 

Benefits of a fourth channel at no extra cost to viewers

 

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From the (Aberdeen) Evening Express for 8 August 1973

AT A TIME when broadcasting is preparing for the biggest shake-up of its short 50-year life, the real power for influencing future trends lies not in the House of Commons but in the executive offices of the IBA and the BBC.

And while it is for Parliament and the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications to make the decisions, the effective power still lies with the established broadcasting organisations.

On that basis, the most powerful man in the bus ness at the moment could well be Lord Aylestone. chairman of the Independent Broadcasting Authority.

Before his recently-renewed contract runs out in 18 months time, he could find himself in charge of TWO television channels and a commercial radio network, available to perhaps half the population.

This softly-spoken former Labour minister has ambitious plans for the IBA’s contribution to what is inevitably going to be a radical new look to broadcasting and he is pressing hard for the Government to allocate the fourth channel to him in preference to the other bodies who have been rigorously staking their claim.

Advantage

Lord Aylestone

TIM ORCHARD talks to LORD AYLESTONE “… the most powerful man in the business.”

“We’ve simply been asked what we at the IBA feel about the fourth channel,” he said on his recent visit to Aberdeen, “and we have put our case. If it’s to be ITV 2 – and we certainly hope it is – then we think this is best.”

In backing up the IBA case, he lays his cards or the table like a man who feels the battle is already half won:

“We have the transmitters and the facilities to take the additional load: it means that we could go ahead almost immediately. If anyone else gets it, then they’ve got to start from scratch and build up.”

He feels, too. that there should be no difficulty in programming a second ITV channel. On this he says: “You just need to look at the advantage the BBC has with two channels. On BBC 2 they can try out programmes with minority interest.

Enthusiasm

“You’ll recall the trouble I personally got into with the production of Verdi’s ‘Macbeth’ at Christmas when we put that on at almost peak time. With a second channel we could have avoided all that.

“You can experiment, like the BBC has obviously done.” he went on.

“Their ‘Six Wives of Henry VIII’ was shown first on BBC 2 – so, too, was “The Forsyte Saga”. They can afford to experiment and it has paid off for them.”

As you’d expect from an ex-politician he has the economics of the thing at his fingertips. The costing of ITV 2 has already been worked out and he believes this to be another point in their favour. The principal source of revenue would obviously be advertising.

But is there enough of this money to go round?

“I have never believed that two channels would multiply the revenue by two – we believe it adds something like 20% to the advertising bill.” he replied.

“Remember that at the moment we are paving the Government between £194 and £20 million in the levy each year. To them it’s chickenfeed but that. plus the 20% increase in advertising, would go a long way to paying for another channel.

“I say this: the second ITV channel won’t cost the viewer a penny.”

Whether they eventually get their second channel or not, one development which the IBA is currently having to concern itself with – and a shade reluctantly at that – is breakfast television, on which they have no set policy.

“As yet we have not come to any firm conclusions on this one,” said Lord Aylestone. “Some companies are just not interested in doing it while others are. What we’ve said is they can go ahead and try, but it is merely an experiment.

“Any programmes must, we feel, have a reasonable slice of news – at least 20 minutes.”

Any IBA enthusiasm for such programmes is the obviously diluted by realities. Would their [sic] be an audience, and, in view of the recent expansion of hours on the air, would they be able to cope?

“To add breakfast television for ITV would be formidable. It can be done of course, but we don’t want to jump into it too quickly,” he replied.

Violence

Of all the current problems facing broadcasters at the moment, the most difficult is in the thorny region of taste – the seemingly endless debate on sex and violence.

To this end, the IBA have sanctioned ATV region to experiment for one year with the “sex-and-violence” symbol in the corner of the screen.

Lord Aylestone, as you’d expect, plays this one down the middle and takes the realistic, if not particularly trendy, view of the problem.

“It’s purely experimental,” he says. “We’ll be watching for results. A verbal warning will be given at the start of a programme – and not in family viewing time, by the way – followed by the symbol which will remain throughout. We and the producers realise there ARE things which disturb people on the screen.

Realistic

“Of course, even though the symbol is there, there won’t be an unnecessary amount of sex, violence or bad language unless we, the IBA, regard it as essential for the presentation. We obviously have to be realistic. If you have a film of a Clydebank docker, say, then he won’t exactly be saying: ‘dash it’. We don’t think you should go to extremes.”

He paused, considering carefully his next words: “Parents must take responsibility for their children, though. If someone comes to me and says: ‘My young daughter of 14 watches till 11.00’, then I just say: ‘I’m sorry, that’s not my responsibility. The parents have to do some of it themselves.”

From the top of his far-flung empire, Lord Aylestone and his committee will soon have to consider if the same ITV
companies should have their programme contracts renewed or whether a change would be beneficial to the individual regions and to the ITV set-up as a whole. How will he assess performance?

“On the basis of the value to the region.” he replied without hesitation and it is obviously a problem with which he’s particularly familiar.

“I am convinced,” he continued, “that some of the smaller companies do extremely well. If you look at the viewing figures, then you see that, for instance, Border and Grampian do particularly well in their own area.”

The authority are currently working towards the opening of the first commercial radio stations in mid-October. In pioneering this new territory, they have laid down their own standards for the allocation of the radio contracts.

Know-how

What is Lord Aylestone looking for in his station operators.

“We are wanting financial viability and radio know-how. It’s not just merchant bankers with lots of money, but someone who knows all about radio. Probably most important of all, we’re looking for local association and knowledge of the area they are supposed to cover,” he told me.

He confided that, following the two London stations, he was hoping for the next three, in Birmingham, Manchester and Glasgow, to be operating by the New Year.

“We are working as fast as we probably can in every direction but there are bound to be delays.

“The companies are finding they need planning permission when they need to start building and it all takes time. Luckily you can equip a radio station much more easily than you can a TV company.”

Strangely enough, since news is reckoned to be among the stations’ most important selling points, the IBA, as yet, have no clear pattern on the provision of their radio news service.

Momentum

“We are not sure at the moment about the association between radio and the ITN. The act requires us to keep them separate.”

The most likely solution, he told me, was for each company to be providing their own local service while the all-news London station would feed the international service round the network… along similar lines to the ITN.

Whether it was a well-played bluff for the purposes of our chat or not, he confesses to being “happy” on both the TV and radio fronts. In radio he’s happy with progress “… and we hope to maintain the momentum already underway.”

In television, at a time when it is receiving more criticism than probably ever before, he says he is pleased with programme standards.

“We are spending more on programmes now than at any time in the last five and a half years. We can now afford to, but we insist at the IBA that programme standards should remain high.”

 

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