- This article is about the British television network. ITV (or iTV) can also mean interactive television.
Independent Television (ITV) is the name given to the original network of British commercial television broadcasters, set up to provide competition to the BBC. The original 'ITV' channel has now been rebranded as ITV1 by ITV plc (the operator of the "Channel 3" franchises in England and Wales).
Table of contents
Note: This article (mostly) discusses the history of the ITV network as a whole; for information on individual ITV companies please see their respective articles—links to which are available in the "ITV companies: past and present" section.
The early years: 1954–1963
After much debate both in the British Parliament and the British Press, the Television Act became law in 1954. This Act paved the way for the establishment of a commercial television service in the UK, creating the Independent Television Authority (ITA). The ITA's responsibility was to regulate the new service, ensuring that the new service did not follow the same path taken by American television networks (which were perceived as "vulgar" by some people). For example, it was made obligatory that commercials be clearly distinguishable from programmes.
The "Independent Television" service, so-called because of its independence from the BBC (which previously had held a monopoly on broadcasting in the UK), was to be made up of regions, with each region run by different companies. The three largest regions (London, the Midlands and the North of England) were subdivided into weekday and weekend services, with a different company running each. Space for commercials, shown during and between programmes was always sold on a region-by-region basis by each ITV company, and not on a nationwide basis throughout the United Kingdom. The reason for this seemingly overcomplicated arrangement was to fulfil the 1954 Act's requirement for competition within the ITV system (as well as against the BBC) and also to help prevent any individual company obtaining a monopoly on commercial broadcasting.
The ITV companies were required by the terms of their licences from the ITA to provide a local television service for their particular region, including a daily local news bulletin and regular local documentaries. However, national news bulletins, covering events in the UK and the rest of the world, were (and still are) produced by Independent Television News (ITN). Until recently, ITN was owned by all the ITV companies.
Each company also produced programming that would be shown across the network (although the decision as to when or if to show each programme remained with the individual regions), with the four largest regions (known as the "Big Four"—London Weekday, London Weekend, the North of England and the Midlands) producing the bulk of this output. Each regional service had its own on-screen identity to distinguish it from other regions, since there was often a sizeable overlap between regions.
The first ITV contractor to begin broadcasting was the London Weekday contractor Associated-Rediffusion, on 22 September 1955. On the first night of telecasts, BBC, who had held the monopoly on broadcasting in Britain, aired a special episode of their popular radio soap opera The Archers on the Home Service. In the episode, core character Grace Archer was killed in a fire, and it was seen as a ploy to sway loyal viewers and listeners away from the new station.
The London Weekend contractor, ATV London (initially known as "ABC" until the Midlands weekend contractor, Associated British Corporation, complained), began two days later. The other regions all launched later:
The ITV regions initially broadcast on 405-line VHF. During the 1960s some commercial companies proposed the introduction of colour on the 405-line system, but the General Post Office insisted that colour should wait until the higher-definition 625-line UHF system became standard. ITV eventually introduced PAL colour on this system from 15 November, 1969, simultaneous with BBC1 and two years after BBC2. This did not, however, spread immediately across the UK; some regions, had to wait a few more years before colour was available. Colour was available to nearly 100% of the UK from 1976, with the Channel Islands being the last region to be converted. This enabled the 405-line system to be phased out between 1982 and 1985.
In general, usually a few years after their launch, the regional companies made a profit; the largest regions especially so. Roy Thomson, the Canadian founding Chairman of Scottish Television famously described the ownership of an ITV franchise as "a licence to print money". However, this was not the case with Wales (West and North) Television (WWN). Problems with the construction of their transmitter network, as well as strict provisions in their contract to produce a large amount of Welsh-language programming, meant that WWN lost a lot of money. Although WWN did receive some help from other ITV contractors, it was not enough; the company declared itself bankrupt in 1964—the only ITV company to have ever done so. The Teledu Cymru name and studio facilities were taken over by TWW, who continued to broadcast in North and West Wales using that name until 1968.
The first franchise round: 1964
Contracts to run an ITV region are not permanent. Contracts were renewed by the ITA every few years, but it was not guaranteed that the incumbent contractor would win an extension; a new company could take over instead.
The ITA's new chairman, former Postmaster General Lord Hill of Luton, undertook a licence review in September 1963. No company lost its position as the local ITV contractor for their region and all licences were extended for another three years (starting July 1964), although several companies took the opportunity relaunch their on-screen identities and change business names and shareholdings.
The second franchise round: 1968
Unlike the 'roll-over' of contracts in 1963, the 1967 review (for contracts running from the end of July 1968) was to create dramatic changes to the structure of the ITV network. The ITA made the following changes to the ITV region map:
- Any split weekday/weekend licences were removed in all regions except London.
- The North of England region was split into North West and Yorkshire and Lincolnshire regions.
There were also changes to the companies running each region:
- Granada, the existing weekday contractor for the North of England region, was given a seven-day licence for the new North West region.
- Lord Thompson of Fleet was required to divest himself of most of his holding in Scottish Television.
- A new company, Yorkshire Television, was given the licence to broadcast in the newly created Yorkshire and Lincolnshire region.
- ATV won the new seven-day Midlands licence, replacing ABC at the weekend.
- ABC and Rediffusion were asked to merge by the ITA, creating Thames Television. Thames was awarded the London Weekday licence previously held by Rediffusion.
- London Weekend Television was awarded the London Weekend licence, replacing ATV.
- Most controversially, TWW lost its franchise for Wales and the West of England to Harlech Television, which soon became known as HTV.
Finally, the local programme guides produced in each region (except the Channel Islands) were abolished and a new company, Independent Television Publications was formed, taking over the London TV Times magazine and producing a national magazine with regional editions.
These changes led to industrial unrest in the ITV companies, culminating strike action as the new companies came on air and the replacement, for most of August 1968, of the regional network with an ITV Emergency National Service run by management.
The third franchise round: 1974
Much like 1964, and very much unlike 1968, the review of contracts in 1974 produced a 'roll-over' with almost no changes.
The IBA (the ITA was given the responsibility of regulating the new commercial "Independent Local Radio" (ILR) stations under the Sound Broadcasting Act 1972 and the name changed accordingly to the Independent Broadcasting Authority) took the opportunity of reassigning the Belmont transmitter in Lincolnshire from Anglia to Yorkshire Television, almost doubling the area served by the smallest of the "Big Five" companies.
A degree of consolidation was allowed into the system by the IBA, for instance joint advertising sales operations. One of these, Trident Management, which handled sales for Tyne Tees Television and Yorkshire Television, was allowed to perform a reverse takeover on the two companies, creating a new entity, Trident Television. Both YTV and TTT, however, retained their own identities, boards and local management.
The fourth franchise round: 1982
- ATV was considered by the IBA to have not focused on their region enough, and were ordered to change in order to keep their licence. The renamed Central Independent Television took over from ATV on 1 January 1982.
- Southern Television lost their South of England licence, in favour of Television South (TVS).
- Westward Television also lost their licence (for South West England), being replaced by Television South West (TSW).
- The new nationwide breakfast television service was awarded to TV-am with a provisional start date of May 1983
- Trident Television was ordered to sell the majority of its holdings in Yorkshire and Tyne Tees and the two companies became independent of each other again.
The Broadcasting Act of 1990
Margaret Thatcher's Conservative Party government spent much of the 1980s privatising and deregulating British industry. Commercial broadcasting was no exception. The Broadcasting Act 1990 paved the way for the deregulation of the British commercial broadcasting industry, which was to have many consequences for the ITV system.
As a result of this Act, the Independent Broadcasting Authority was abolished, and was replaced by two new "light-touch" regulators: Independent Television Commission (otherwise known as the ITC) and the Radio Authority. The small Cable Authority was also abolished and its powers transferred to the ITC.
The main change was to the system of licence allocation was changed; the "beauty contest" where applicants needed to show good programming ideas and fine financial controls was replaced by highest-bidder auctions to determine the winner of each ITV regional franchise.
The auction element of the ITV franchising process was very controversial; the press and the existing ITV companies lobbied to have it changed and the ITC agreed to introduce a "quality threshold" to prevent high bidders with poor programme plans from joining the system.
ITN, the news provider for ITV, no longer had to be exclusively owned by ITV companies. The legal name of the ITV network was changed to "Channel 3", although the network is still generally referred to as ITV by the general public and the media.
Additionally, Channel 4, which had previously been an independent subsidiary of the IBA, was now to become a Government-owned corporation patterned after the BBC. It would also begin to sell its own advertisement space – a function previously provided by each ITV company as a return for subsidising the channel.
The fifth franchise round: 1993
- Television South West lost the South West England franchise to Westcountry Television.
- Thames Television lost the London Weekday franchise to Carlton Television. However, Thames, although it has lost its broadcasting licence, still produces programmes for ITV, such as The Bill and the successful reality television programme Pop Idol.
- TVS lost the South of England franchise to Meridian Broadcasting.
- TV-am lost the National Breakfast television to Sunrise Television, who changed their name to GMTV before launch due to a dispute with BSkyB over the "Sunrise" name.
- ORACLE lost the National Teletext franchise to Teletext Ltd.
All other existing ITV companies retained their regional franchises.
Television South West and TVS attempted to obtain a judicial review of the ITC's decisions and of the wording of the 1990 Act. Accordingly, the ITC held off awarding the contract to Westcountry until the review was completed. As the contract with Meridian had already been agreed, the court felt unable to conduct a review of that decision. The review of the south-west franchise process took several months but was decided in favour of the ITC (and therefore against TSW).
Consolidation since 1993
The relaxation in the franchise ownership rules as a result of the 1990 Act meant that mergers between ITV companies were now possible (even more after the Broadcasting Act 1996, which relaxed the rules even further). This was quickly taken advantage of by the larger companies—Carlton Communications, Granada and (to a lesser extent) Scottish Television:
- Yorkshire Television and Tyne Tees re-merged, creating Yorkshire–Tyne Tees Television plc.
- Carlton Television buys Central Independent Television.
- MAI (later United News and Media—UNM) buys Anglia Television.
- Granada takeover of LWT takes place.
- Carlton buys Westcountry Television.
- United News and Media purchases HTV.
- Granada acquisition of Yorkshire–Tyne Tees Television plc.
- Scottish Media Group (SMG) acquires Grampian Television.
- Granada acquires Anglia, Meridian and HTV from UNM; Granada then sells HTV to Carlton to comply with the then-current regulatory requirements.
Carlton and Granada attempted to merge twice in the 1990s, creating a new company that would own all the Channel 3 licences in England and Wales (and the English-Scottish Border). In October 2003, the Government announced that it would no longer prevent a merger from taking place, subject to safeguards being set in place to ensure the continued independence of the Scottish Media Group, UTV and Channel Television. The merger of the two companies finally took place at the end of January 2004, and the new company—named ITV plc—started trading on 2 February, with former Carlton shareholders owning 32% and Granada shareholders owning 68% of the new shares in the company.
The choice of the name "ITV plc" was controversial, since it could imply that the company runs the entire network, and an agreement had to be reached with SMG, UTV and Channel before the name could be used. Granada and Carlton have also been criticised in the past for using the ITV name to brand their failed pay television service, ITV Digital, and the ITV Sports Channel.
Although still the major force in UK commercial television, ITV's share of the TV viewing audience has been falling for years, particularly since the start of competition by satellite television and cable, and more recently Digital Terrestrial Television. As a result, the ITV network has tried to adapt, by launching three additional channels broadcast on the main digital television platforms. ITV2 launched in 1998, and carries a mix of imported and homemade programming, as well as extended coverage of ITV's reality television programmes. The ITV News Channel shows ITV News bulletins 24-hours a day (produced by ITN). In 2004 a further general entertainment channel called ITV3 was launched.
In recognition of this fact, the ITV network (in the Carlton and Granada owned areas) was rebranded ITV1 in 2001. From October 2002 regional branding in these regions (and Channel Television) was dropped altogether, except before regional programming, with all ITV plc regions now being controlled from a reduced number of transmission centres. This has led to a number of job cuts and scaled-back operations at regional centres, with some studios being sold off altogether. In view of the national audiences they serve, Scottish, Grampian and UTV have all decided not to adopt the ITV1 brand, and still use their own individual identities at all times.
There are some programmes produced by ITV companies (past and present) that are well-known, usually in the UK, but often worldwide. These include:
- The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (Produced 1984-1994 by Granada Television)
- Agatha Christie's Poirot (Shown since 1989)
- Armchair Theatre (Produced from 1956-1968 by ABC, and intermittently during the 1970s by Thames Television)
- The Avengers (Produced 1961-1969 by ABC)
- The Benny Hill Show (Produced 1969-1989 by Thames Television)
- The Bill (Shown since 1984 in the UK, produced by Thames Television)
- Cadfael (Produced 1994-1998 by Central/Carlton Television)
- Coronation Street (Shown since 1960 in the UK, produced by Granada Television)
- Emmerdale (Shown since 1972 in the UK, produced by Yorkshire Television)
- Hornblower (Produced 1998-2002)
- Inspector Morse (Produced 1987-2001 by Zenith Productions for Central)
- Pop Idol (Two series; produced in 2002 and 2003 by Thames Television and 19 Management)
- The Prisoner (Produced in 1967 by Everyman Films)
- The World at War (Originally shown 1973-1974, produced by Thames Television)
- World in Action (Produced 1963-1999 by Granada Television)
- The Saint (Produced 1962-1969 by ITA)
- Sharpe (Produced 1993 to 1997 by Central/Carlton Television)
- 3–2–1 (Produced 1978 to 1987 by Yorkshire Television)
- The South Bank Show (Shown since 1978 in the UK, produced by LWT)
- Upstairs, Downstairs (Produced 1971)
- Wycliffe (Produced 1993-1998 by Harlech Television/Red Rooster Film & Television Entertainment)
In the last decade, the number of productions by 'independent' production companies (that is, companies that are independent of the ITV network) has increased. Notable examples include Thames Television (itself a former ITV contractor) and Celador, producers of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?
It is believed by some people that ITV has started "dumbing-down" in recent years. They argue that serious documentary and current affairs programmes are seldom to be seen in prime time, whilst the amount of reality television programmes and soap operas has increased (although this may be something attributed British television in general, since the BBC has been accused of the same things). In its defence, ITV does continue to show its major strengths in the fields of sports coverage and drama productions, and the production of "high-brow" programming such as The South Bank Show has continued.
ITV companies: past and present
Former ITV contractors
- Associated British Corporation (ABC Television): North and Midlands weekend franchise (1956-1968)
- Associated-Rediffusion: London weekday franchise (1955-1968)
- Associated Television Network Limited (ATV): Midlands weekday franchise and London weekend franchise (1956-1968); Midlands (7 day) (1968-1981)
- Southern Television: South and South East England franchise (1958-1982)
- Thames Television: London weekday franchise (1968-1992)
- TSW SW England franchise (1982-1992)
- TVS: South and South East England franchise (1982-1992)
- TWW: Wales and West of England franchise (1958-1968). See also ITSWW (March-May 1968)
- Westward Television: SW England franchise (1961-1981)
- WWN: North and West Wales franchise (1962-1964)
- TV-am: National Breakfast Television franchise (1983-1992)
- ORACLE: National Teletext franchise (1977-1992)
Current ITV franchise holders
- Owned by ITV plc:
- Anglia Television: East of England franchise (1959-)
- Border Television: English – Scottish border and Isle of Man franchise (1961-)
- Carlton: London weekday franchise (1993-)
- Central Independent Television: Midlands franchise (1981-)
- Granada Television: North of England weekday franchise (1956-1968); NW England franchise (1968-)
- HTV (originally "Harlech"): Wales and West of England franchise (1968-)
- London Weekend Television (LWT): London Weekend franchise (1968-)
- Meridian Broadcasting: South and south-east England franchise (1993-)
- Tyne Tees Television: North-east England franchise (1958-)
- Westcountry Television SW England franchise (1993-)
- Yorkshire Television: Yorkshire/Lincolnshire franchise (1968-)
- Owned by Scottish Media Group:
- Other regional franchises:
- National franchises:
- List of British television channels
- ITV plc
- Ofcom – the Office of Communications
- ITV News Channel
- ITV Digital
- Men and Motors
The ITV companies
- ITV.com – Homepage of the ITV Network
- ITV Plc Homepage of ITV PLC (formally Carlton & Granada)
- Channel Television Ltd
- SMG plc, Scottish TV, Grampian TV
- UTV plc, Channel Homepage UTV
Unofficial sites about ITV
- The Transdiffusion Network – a British Communications History website
- Independent TeleWeb – a history of ITV
- The Historical Television Website
- Harlech House of Graphics – a site about ITV in Wales and the West of England
- Tyne Tees Logo Page – about the North East England broadcaster
- Television Southwest – about ITV companies in the South West of England
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