Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The depressing homogenisation of ITV

The proposals announced by Michael Grade today to reduce ITV's regional newsrooms, from 17 to nine, is yet another step in the steady ratcheting of the homogenisation of ITV.

In the 1960s and 70s, each ITV region was run by an individual, independent private company. They had their own logos, on-screen continuity "personality" announcers, news programmes, magazine programmes, start-up films, closedown films, advert "bumpers" (quick bits between the ads), idents, local personalities, regional puppets for kids' birthday dedications, individually painted boards for feature films etc etc There was even the additional bonus of local cock-ups.

Now what do they have that is particular to each region? Er.............

Well, all the regional stations are owned by one public company, they all have the same ITV logo, the same advert "bumpers", no on-screen announcers, unseen announcers from some bunker 200 miles away covering several regions, no regional idents and precious little regional magazine programmes. When you watch ITV in, say, Manchester and then compare it to ITV in, say, Penzance, it is almost exactly the same, with one exception, at 6pm you get local news. (Scotland is a bit of an exception in that you occasionally hear the odd Scots accent on the continuity announcements).

Grade's proposal is extremely depressing in that it is just one more step in completely erasing any regional identity for ITV's programmes. The sheer colour and variety, the charm and quaintness of the original ITV network was enrapturing and fostered a strong feeling of regional identity in viewers.

The Westward galleon, the Anglia knight, the Thames river scape, the Southern all might have been a bit kitsch and cheap but it was all part of a regional fabric with a personality.

But the reduction in service of the plans is the most disturbing aspect.

Grade will be knocking the stuffing out of most of the regional news programmes, with a resultant diminution in the community life of this country.

It would be alright if we had a thriving community/town television system to take up the slack, but we certainly do not.

Imagine. Under the plans someone in Penzance will watch regional news hosted in Bristol (probably) which will include news from Gloucester. Someone in Newbury will be watching news from Kent. In half an hour, you really can't bring in sufficient places from the region to make people spread over it feel they are watching something local.

Trust me. I've watched BBC South for years. It's based in Southampton and I live in Newbury. They keep on banging on about places in Sussex. I haven't a clue what it's like there. Apart from Brighton, I have never been to most of the places they mention. They might as well be going on about Outer Mongolia, for all the relevance it has to me.

As is often said, people are either interested in what's happening at national/world level or what is happening in their town. They are not interested in what is happening in some provincial town 100 or 150 miles away from them.

This is actually a chance for Ofcom to show their mettle. I cannot believe they are going to approve this proposal. When you think of the days of ITA and Lady Plowden, who ruled with a rod of iron and ferociously enforced regional standards, it is just unthinkable that there should be such a retrograde step.

Shortly before he died, I interviewed Kenneth MacLeod for a website I used to run about Westward Television. Ken was a real ITV regional pioneer. He worked for Associated Redifusion and then for Westward. He was a real anchor man. Physically, in the nicest possible way, he looked as though he could anchor a medium size boat. He had talked his way, live on air, through so many machine breakdowns that he was a dab hand at the ad lib.

He explained to me that once there was a breakdown and he resorted to his old standby: He got out the contents of his poockets - bus tickets, cheques etc - and started talking about them: "I need to pay that bill tomorrow" etc etc. Once, he had to talk his way through a whole half-hour programme because the telecine machine didn't work at all.

So he was well immersed in the ITV regional system. He told me a few home truths. First of all, he said he was convinced that, if the ITV regional system hadn't come along, the BBC wouldn't have bothered with their regional programmes. That makes me fear that the BBC will follow ITV in diluting their regional television news programmes. Secondly, he was convinced that ITV would eventually have no regional identities at all.

His second prediction seems to be well on its way to fruition. Michael Grade's plans will make it a step nearer.


  1. All the local news we get is about Leeds. I shouldn't think any other northern city would be any less interesting.

  2. I agree entirely with everything you said Paul. It's depressing that Grade has forgotten that the very foundation of ITV lies in its regional programming - it's where it started all off back in the mid fifties. I'm hoping Ofcom kick the idea into touch.

  3. Yup. Totalyl agree with everything you said. It's quite depressing what has happened to ITV.

    People keep blurring the lines however between regional output and regional identity. I suppose in this modern world, ITV have to cut as many costs as possible. It seems understandable to cut back on idents, and even announcers.

    But there is one thing, even if all that happens, is we have some generic logo as ITV1 Central, ITV1 Meridien etc, it may not be as homely, but it gives us all a sense of belonging.

    Perhaps the world is too small now. You can drive or fly anywhere without hassle, people migrating all around the country. Perhaps that's why regional identity's don't make sense?

    But I still live in my home town, and I miss seeing programs made about my local community. Is ITV no longer a PSB? All they are is another Sky Three.

    Someone elsewhere had the right idea. Let ITV continue, shove them off onto a Channel 3 somewhere, and then reallocate the INDEPENDENT tv licenses to regional companies again. We do need to see programs about our local town. We need to see programs made in our local area broadcast nationally. We want to see ITV Central and not ITV Productions.