They just wouldn’t let it lie, would they? Many within ITV believed
that the Independent Television Commission would find it eminently
possible to resist the political pressure it has been under to resurrect
News at Ten.
Gerald Kaufman, the chairman of the Parliamentary select committee on
media affairs, has consistently called for the 10pm bulletin, scrapped
in March 1999, to be reinstated. Recently, he even upped the ante,
threatening a review of the ITC’s future if it failed to follow his
wishes. Since the threat, however, ITC sources have been hinting that
they are more than able to stand up to the odd bit of bullying.
So last week’s announcement caught some people on the hop. Robin Biggam,
the ITC chairman, stated that the ITV schedule, with a news bulletin at
6.30pm and at 11.00pm, was not delivering a large enough combined
audience for news programming. ITV could thus be judged in default of
its public service remit.
The previous schedule, with the early evening news at 5.40pm and good
old News at Ten, delivered a combined audience of just under ten
The new schedule delivers a combined news audience of just over 8.5
That’s a decline of 13.9 per cent. The ITC insists that ITV has to
reverse this decline.
The heart of the matter is the performance of the 11pm bulletin. ITV
points out that the audience of its main bulletin - now deemed to be the
early evening one - compares very well with the viewing performance of
the News at Ten flagship it replaces. If ITV wants to resist the
reintroduction of News at Ten (and it does because peaktime audiences
have clearly prospered since its removal) it has to make the 11pm
bulletin more attractive.
Perhaps strangely, though, the quality of the programme itself isn’t
remotely in question. Programming is a black art and one of its central
tenets is the belief that the shape and flow of a schedule can be as
important as any inherent qualities programmes may individually
In short, ITV’s strategy is to continue to tinker with the contents of
the 10pm to 11pm slot. It will seek to build a substantial audience
momentum so that extra viewers will be passed on to the late-night news.
Can it be done? After all, it needs to pass on an extra million
Paul Parashar, the broadcast director of New PHD, says that it can and
does work. It’s almost a statistical phenomenon - big audiences tend to
fall away at a gentle rate.
He says: ’Manchester United against Barcelona would pass on the right
sort of numbers, as would Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? The big
problem, though, is that all of ITV’s audiences have been declining
’Another consideration is that the audience profile for news tends to be
older and more upmarket while ITV has been trying to satisfy advertiser
demands for younger audiences. So, while the principle is that if you
increase peak viewing you will increase the audience for the 11pm news,
ITV should also think about what sort of audience it is trying to pass
Others in the market are less than convinced that ITV can deliver. Some
cynics believe that it’s not really expected to. Jon Horrocks, a
managing partner of Walker Media, is sceptical. He says: ’It is
unrealistic to expect ITV to deliver the sort of audiences the ITC wants
in today’s increasingly fragmented environment.
’High-rating programmes in the 10pm to 11pm slot will pass on audiences
but you can’t do that every night of the week. There’s no way that News
at Ten will be reinstated though.
’The cynical view is that the ITC is merely banging the drum for
political reasons. The reality is that it will want to hear the right
noises and see a few ideas.
’Richard Eyre (ITV’s former chief executive, who left earlier this year)
was a very effective lobbyist. You can’t help suspecting that all this
would have been avoided if an effective replacement for him had been