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
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
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
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
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.’