FORUM: Can ITV and C4 please advertisers and the ITC? - The Independent Television Commission has been at it again. Its annual programming report card was not the reading that ITV, with its ambitious audience targets, was hoping for. Channel 4 was also ta

By ALASDAIR REID, campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 15 May 1998 12:00AM

Members of the Independent Television Commission clearly don’t watch Carlton. In a week when the ITC ticked off ITV for its poor performance in both factual programming and comedy, Carlton - it was alleged in a newspaper report - had attempted to combine the two genres. The Connection, a supposed undercover investigation into Colombia’s drugs business, was nothing of the sort, according to the Guardian.

Members of the Independent Television Commission clearly don’t

watch Carlton. In a week when the ITC ticked off ITV for its poor

performance in both factual programming and comedy, Carlton - it was

alleged in a newspaper report - had attempted to combine the two genres.

The Connection, a supposed undercover investigation into Colombia’s

drugs business, was nothing of the sort, according to the Guardian.



Carlton is perhaps planning to kill two birds with one stone by evolving

a whole new programme genre - somewhere between the spoof rockumentary,

This is Spinal Tap, and Michael Palin’s Ripping Yarns. Such initiative,

surely, should not go unrewarded?



Unfortunately, the ITC is unlikely to see the funny side and it seems to

get more pernickety with every year that passes. In its annual report

and commercial programme performance review published last week, it not

only took a pop at ITV and Channel 4 for failing to impress in certain

genres but it had a go at individual programmes too. It does not much

care for ITV’s Saturday evening schedule. Blind Date, for instance, is

stale. Barrymore, it avers, is boring.



This is arguable, obviously. But if ITV programming bosses wanted that

sort of subjective criticism, they’d spend more time listening to

saloon-bar slanging matches. And some of the broader judgments seemed

gratuitous.



Everyone knows ITV can’t make comedy but at least it tries.



ITV was taken to task for not being ’diverse’ enough and for dedicating

too much time and resource to drama at the expense of entertainment.

Meanwhile, Channel 4 was criticised for not being innovative enough -

too much Friends and ER - and for failing to screen foreign language

films before midnight.


Oh, and they’re all guilty of running confessional chat shows such as

Vanessa. How tasteless.



Happily, executives at both organisations were able to enter a classic

plea of alibi. They were not in office when the alleged offences may or

may not have been committed. It was, in fact, the fault of their

predecessors. The new ITV Network Centre team has only been in place

since last autumn and Michael Jackson succeeded Michael Grade as the

Channel 4 chief executive only a year ago and hasn’t really had time to

make his mark.



Jackson would be forgiven for feeling he faces an impossible task. With

the two main commercial channels under increasing fire from a wider

range of rivals, is it possible to reconcile the demands of both

advertisers and regulators?



Jackson’s reply is short and sweet: ’Far from posing any challenge to

our commercial revenue, our commitment to more landmark programmes and

greater innovation across the schedule should make us an even more

attractive commercial proposition, strengthening the identity of the

Channel 4 brand as well as fulfilling our public service role.’



David Liddiment, ITV’s director of programmes, is also in feisty mood

and he’s not at all happy about the way the ITC conducts itself. He

comments: ’I am a great believer in diversity. I do not want a one-note

ITV. I have no problem with delivering the statutory allocation of hours

within each programme genre but I’m not sure that criticising individual

programmes achieves anything. That is perhaps not appropriate from a

regulatory body. If we have a popular and long-running show it would be

wrong of ITV to take it off the air if it continues to deliver within

the schedule.’



Some ITV sources are mystified by the ITC’s criticism of the network’s

entertainment output. Isn’t drama entertainment? They also say that

flexibility is absolutely vital in a competitive market. They can’t be

tied to percentages and rules on what should go in which part of the

schedule because audience tastes can change rapidly.



Liddiment argues that the ITC must adopt a broader outlook. ’I believe

regulators should start appreciating the diversity across the whole of

British TV and not expect each broadcaster to reproduce that in

miniature.



We are a regulated industry - we have no problem with that. But whether

such a detailed level of regulation and the ability to deliver a

competitive schedule in an extremely competitive marketplace are

compatible is another matter.



’For advertisers, our usp is high-volume audience delivery programmes.

What drives our schedule are big, popular programmes. That is a strength

to be celebrated.’



Certainly. But can commercial broadcasters expect much sympathy from

advertisers? Barry Spencer, the media communications manager of Kraft

Jacobs Suchard, wouldn’t go that far. ’Our only concerns are the

well-publicised ones about making sure the right audiences are there in

terms of absolute numbers and quality,’ he says. ’Where audience levels

decline, we are always concerned - the arguments about inflation are

well known.



I also think it’s clear that there has been some slippage by Channel 4

as regards the channel’s remit. We’re obviously aware that ITV has done

well in building its drama offering, especially in peak, but it needs to

make the rest of the day attractive according to the needs of both

audiences and advertisers.’



Paul Parashar, the broadcast director of New PHD, is with Liddiment on

this. He believes ITV could be handcuffed unnecessarily, hampering the

commercial side of its business. ’It’s almost as if the ITC is insisting

on specific dates and times for some programming. That sort of approach

will always allow other channels to take advantage.



’We obviously welcome ITV’s more aggressive scheduling policy and the

new central management of ITV faces a difficult task given that it has

set itself a target of 40 per cent for peaktime share. If it is

restricted in any key areas, hitting that target will become almost

impossible. The problem with factual programming is that it doesn’t

always deliver audiences.



It’s hard to find room for it on the schedule. We all recognise the need

to improve ITV audiences but I think it is wrong to belittle the efforts

of the programming professionals. Saturday evening programming is

certainly not the area that the ITC should be most worried about.’



This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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