The problem, of course, isn’t News at Ten. But then it never really
has been. The problem - however you dress it up - is much more serious.
It’s that, for example, the latest series of Blind Date had two million
fewer viewers than the one that aired in 1993; while the two main TV
channels together now attract the same number of viewers on a typical,
News at Ten-free Saturday evening that Jim’ll Fix It did in his 70s and
In other words, it’s the same old problem. TV audiences are
They’re not dribbling away to satellite or cable or waiting for the bold
new digital revolution, they are simply switching off. And News at Ten
is caught in the middle of the battle to woo them back (Campaign, last
It might be ingenuous, then, of Richard Eyre, the chief executive of
ITV, to claim that the changes he proposes to make to the channel’s
flagship news service would merely lead to higher standards of editorial
excellence, even if he isn’t necessarily wrong. ’Clearly,’ he points
out, ’we are aiming at an upmarket audience and there is no hint of
dumbing down. Journalistically, news at 11pm would allow a better level
of coverage and analysis of Parliament.’
The new proposals envisage a flagship news at 6.30pm, presented by
Trevor McDonald and broadcast far too early to capture much of the
influential business audience, at least in London and the South-east.
This would be augmented by a half-hour news programme at 11pm,
containing extra Parliamentary, regional and international reports.
There would be more bulletins for breaking news in the late evening. A
further carrot is that News at Ten could live on in some form, albeit on
ITV2 - the network’s new digital service. In addition, ITV would
introduce a news documentary strand on Sunday evenings, modelled on the
CBS show, 60 Minutes.
With News at Ten out of the way, films could be shown on some evenings
without an irritating news break half-way through, while there would be
more sport and comedy on other nights. The idea, of course, is for ITV
to extend peak ratings and give the viewers and advertisers what they
But will the changes really do all this? So far we know only that they
are not popular with politicians. John Major scuppered the last
concerted effort to move the news five years ago, while Tony Blair has
already made his private reservations very public this time around. ’He
thinks,’ a spokesman said in an unusually forthright statement, ’it
would be regrettable if this led to any marginalisation of television
news or further moves downmarket in the media generally.’ The phrase
’further moves downmarket’ was surely calculated to leave an unfortunate
taste in the back of ITV throats.
It’s not as if news programmes are necessarily ratings losers, even in
America. As ITV announced its plans last week, in a moment of delicious
irony, news programmes as a category were recording ten of America’s top
27 programmes, with 60 Minutes topping the overall rankings and Dateline
NBC making the list for four of its five broadcasts. However, although
60 Minutes came ahead of a schedule packed with the likes of Seinfeld,
Frasier and Friends, news programmes traditionally do well in summer
when re-runs dominate the US entertainment schedules.
For advertisers, the issue appears to be more clear cut. ’News at Ten is
an outmoded concept that doesn’t have popular support. The brutal truth
is that most people would prefer entertainment at that time,’ Chris
Locke, the deputy managing director of MediaVest, says. ’I’d love to
take Tony Blair to see Armageddon with 40 minutes of Pathe news in the
middle - and see what he thought of that.
’It’s too easy for ITV’s rivals to schedule against it and as for
advertisers, the only reason it appears on so many schedules is
precisely that it’s easy to buy into.
If you are planning and buying a heavyweight all-adult campaign you’ll
make sure you get the breaks in Batman Returns or Supply and Demand.
News at Ten will be given to you to balance the deal. The proposed
changes offer a number of attractive-looking ABC1 buying opportunities,
not just in the later 11pm news but also with the 60 Minutes
But hang on a minute, doesn’t anyone remember the Fiat Strada campaign
in which the music of Rossini serenaded several of Fiat’s uglier small
cars around an Italian racetrack in a ground- breaking ad that debuted
in the centre break of News at Ten? Or, more recently, Peugeot 406’s
’Search for the Hero’ that did the same to considerable acclaim?
’The centre break in News at Ten has always been the showcase spot for
advertisers,’ points out the man responsible for that Peugeot ad - Mark
Wnek, a partner at Euro RSCG Wnek Gosper. ’Not because of the numbers,
but because News at Ten was seen as the most important news service that
also offered access for the commercial world.
We used to say that only two account moves ever made it on to News at
Ten - Guinness and British Airways and I suppose it became a showcase
because of that exclusivity.
’It does seem odd that they want to give up one of the few programmes
you can count on your peers having seen, but I suspect the changes are
really just to make us fortysomethings sound old and bleat on about how
it was all much better in our day. It should be down to what the viewers