Two cheers for the Independent Television Commission in summoning
up the courage to defy the politicians’ bluster and move News at
The programme isn’t some hallowed institution that must be permanently
preserved as its audience dwindles, endangering the financial health of
the ITV network as it does so. And it is neither just, nor fair, for MPs
to try to stop the ITV companies exercising their rights and duties as
commercial organisations to take the necessary steps to sustain and grow
their audience shares.
Sentiment should blind nobody to some harsh facts that must be
ITV audiences are growing older and more downmarket and have lost their
allure for lots of advertisers. Worse, almost three in ten ITV viewers
are switching channels or switching off as News at Ten goes on air.
So why only two cheers for what the ITC has done? Because although it
has removed some of the regulatory shackles which prevent ITV from
competing on equal terms with the BBC, whether it has delivered a
long-term solution to ITV’s problems remains to be seen.
The litmus test will be whether ITV carries out its promise to pack the
two hours from 9pm with quality programming or succumb to the lazy
solution of screening feature films. These may well deliver audiences
but not necessarily the younger and more affluent people most resistant
to promotional messages that advertisers struggle to reach.
Moving News at Ten provides ITV with a golden opportunity to deliver the
audiences with the right demographic balance that advertisers wish to
target. For years, ITV chiefs have grumbled about News at Ten straddling
their evening schedules. Now, ITV has no more excuses for failing to
give advertisers what they want.