The notion that someone can actually own the words ’news’, ’at’ and
’ten’, in that order, seems at best farcical. But then the whole issue
of ITV’s News at Ten has not exactly raised the calibre of debate in
Now ITN is threatening legal action against BSkyB’s decision to launch
Sky News at Ten in a petty manoeuvre which neatly underlines the
irrational sentimentality which has dogged ITV’s push to revamp its
ITN believes it owns the trademark rights to the words and doesn’t want
Sky cashing in on them. The fact that no-one else seems to want them
appears to be irrelevant.
News at Ten, on ITV at least, is no more as of next Monday. The gnashing
of teeth and righteous wailing over the demise of this so-called
national institution has come to nought and, finally, we are to be
allowed a television schedule that - if ITV gets its new line-up right -
should suit many more people’s tastes. If only we could now see other
outmoded national institutions go the same way.
The traditionalists’ worry that we are now plummeting into a world where
Who Wants to be a Millionaire? is the closest we come to brain fodder in
the broadcasting world can take some comfort from the flood of marketing
and advertising campaigns designed to raise the profile of news coverage
as never before. When was the last time a raft of broadcasters
encouraged us to keep in touch with current affairs, as they have been
on the BBC , and soon will be on Channel 5, Sky and ITV? We can also
expect, in the short term at least, a fierce regulatory spotlight to be
thrown on news and current affairs output across the board. Any decline
in quality will provoke an uproar.
But, of course, this isn’t about what’s good for us. It’s about what’s
good for advertisers and, ultimately, TV shareholders. ITV hopes to
attract more viewers and more advertisers with a new line-up of
entertainment right through peak-time. Hence News at Ten will be
replaced by news at 6.30 and 11, but also by more comedy, more movies
and more quiz shows.
The point is that most people would rather see Who Wants to be a
than high-quality network news or robust current affairs coverage. But
one question remains. Why? It’s hardly down to the high calibre of our
While no-one would doubt the success of News at Ten for concise and
well-presented coverage, perhaps there is room for more current affairs
programming with popular appeal - and I don’t mean docusoaps or sex and
In the US, for example, news actually scores pretty highly in the
ratings, with four out of the top 20 shows in the news and current
Now that the News at Ten battle is dead and buried, what about a fresh
look at popular and respected current affairs peak-time programming?
After all, as all the broadcasters are now telling us, news can be sexy.