Today is the 30th anniversary of the outcome of the ITV franchise auction. The auction saw Thames, TVS, TSW and TV-am lose out.
The impact on the breakfast service and the affected regions at the time was fundamental.
But did the auction, as some claim, lead to the ITV we have today? Or has the point come when the franchise round has to be seen as just a very bad bump in the road?
The actual system of awarding the franchises was imperfect.
Some bidders were disqualified for bidding too high. Others who bid low were saved as the winning financial bidder failed to cross the quality threshold.
Money certainly went out of programmes to go to the Treasury while the loss of Thames sent shockwaves through the industry.
But arguably the more significant changes to the ITV network schedule came about through deregulation rather than the franchise changes.
The ITC lost many of the old powers of the IBA and certainly did not have the IBA’s old role of subjectively saying programmes weren’t good enough. It was not the ITC’s role to say there were too many detective shows or unfunny comedies as long as no rules and regulations were broken.
Deregulation also led to obvious changes like the end of the Sunday night God slot.
To be fair, the ITC was strict in ensuring the companies kept to their local commitments and issued some formal warnings.
But what is remarkable about the ITV schedule in the months after the new franchise period started is just how big a role Thames continued to play as an independent production company.
The Bill, Minder, This Is Your Life, Wish You Were Here and Des O’Connor Tonight continued. The most obvious losses were Rainbow and the distinguished current affairs series This Week.
Ultimately it was the new ITV Network Centre and deregulation which shaped the network schedule – not the franchise changes. The new Thames was a supplier just like any other independent production company and, of course, also made programmes for the BBC, including This Is Your Life after it was axed by ITV.
The other fascinating question is whether today’s ITV plc would be a different beast if Thames had been involved in its creations.
A tortuous series of mergers and takeovers led to the creation of ITV plc in 2004.
Eventually the network was largely in the hands of Thames’ successor Carlton along with Granada.
It is impossible to say whether an expansionist Thames would have treated any smaller regional companies it took over any differently to Calton.
Ultimately the changing market world probably have made some sort of national ITV inevitable.
What is sad to reflect upon though is that today’s ITV plc doesn’t include the legacy of what was arguably its most distinguished company – the one responsible for so many of the peaks of programme quality in the 70s and 80s.
ITV plc is partly descended from Granada which, of course, absorbed Yorkshire and LWT. Carlton had also bought over Central so the company can just about claim some ATV heritage. But alas Thames and its predecessors ABC and Associated Rediffusion are not part of the story.
Still, trying to reflect on whether today’s ITV would be materially different had Thames not lost its licence is all but impossible.
It may have been a tragedy at the time for a good company and its staff but would things really be so different today?
PICTURED: Thames TV ident. COPYRIGHT: FremantleMedia.