Commercial broadcasters are always banging on about how committed
they are to news. But then they have to say that - the sanctity of news
is written into their licences. The truth is that it’s a dreadful
inconvenience, and makes peaktime scheduling a nightmare.
Take ITV for instance - with News at Ten starting an hour after the 9pm
watershed, the network has just 60 minutes of sophisticated programming
time in peak. And, whatever strategy it pursues, the audience begins
dribbling away after the bongs.
That could all be about to change. News at Ten could be on the move.
Yes, we’ve all heard this before - John Major famously intervened to
stop it happening the last time it was seriously on the agenda.
But sources now indicate that the ITV Network Centre has told ITN to
prepare for rescheduling.
It could be part of sweeping changes involving the whole commercial
The bulletins are about to play musical chairs. Channel 5 has already
announced that it is moving 5 News to a 7pm slot. It is bullish about
taking on the rather serious, broadsheet-inspired, Channel 4 News.
Kirsty Young, the presenter for Channel 5, has ... let’s say, a more
attractive style than Jon Snow and pulls in younger audiences.
Will Channel 4 move? It might see an opportunity to edge closer to BBC
1’s main evening news at 9pm, spiking its guns and stealing a huge chunk
of audience for the commercial sector.
News at Ten’s six-million strong audience is puny in ITV terms and
Channels 4 and 5 pull in just 850,000 and 420,000 respectively for their
Not so long ago, broadcasters could comfort themselves in the knowledge
that, even if it wasn’t a ratings winner, news at least commanded
premium advertising rates. News is serious, grown-up stuff watched by
serious grown-up people with seriously grown-up disposable incomes.
The audience remains the same, but advertisers have woken up to the fact
that it’s a lousy environment. Television news, despite the best efforts
of Martin ’Pollyanna’ Lewis, is bad news, full of disasters, tragedies,
famines and stock-market crashes.
Are there major audience and revenue gains to be made from marginalising
news? Yes, David Cuff, the broadcast director of Initiative Media, says
- especially for ITV. ’We’ve always argued that ITV could do a lot
better with a clear run through to 11pm - but the benefits wouldn’t feed
through instantly,’ he says. Cuff also believes that the only people
interested in news these days are regulators - and they are increasingly
out of date in their concerns, given that there’s so much news on tap on
Andy Barnes, head of advertising sales at Channel 4, takes issue with
this. He can’t see Channel 4 running scared from Kirsty. He says: ’It’s
a competitive market and anything that keeps us on our toes is fine. But
we believe that our news is a real point of difference - it’s the only
hour-long, serious, broadsheet television news programme. Its slot is
the right one. What I can see happening is not just a marginalising of
news in scheduling terms, there is also a trend towards trivialisation -
the ’dogs on skateboards’ tendency. The more that happens the more
important it is for Channel 4 to provide something substantial.’
But Paul Parashar, the broadcast director of New PHD, maintains that all
this talk of scheduling obscures a more important point.
’Sooner or later ITV especially will have to face up to the fact that
its news offering doesn’t generate much enthusiasm,’ he says. ’ITV
companies have to do something to make it a demanded programme, not
merely an inconvenience in their schedules.’