Teleshopping returns to ITV: has overnight linear TV had its day?

The return of a full overnight programme schedule on ITV has proved short-lived. From 1st August, Teleshopping will occupy the early hours up to 3am in all ITVplc regions including UTV and Channel. Some would contend that on a major channel Teleshopping is simply naff.

Rewind to 1987 and 1988 when ITV pioneered 24-hour broadcasting in the UK and Channel 4 regularly stayed open until 3am.

Channel 4 was the first UK broadcaster to regularly stay open beyond the standard closedown time of about 12.30am on weekdays and 1.30am on Fridays and Saturdays. They extended the schedule on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays to 3am – indeed at this point, the channel still didn’t open until around 2.15pm.

For Channel 4 this was an opportunity to innovate and provide more of its pioneering programmes – not least the open-ended discussion After Dark.

But across at ITV different forces were at work. In 1986, Yorkshire briefly showed Music Box overnight and by mid-1987 companies such as Thames, LWT and Central were staying open well into the night.

Unlike daytime TV, there was no proven market – everybody knew there was an underserved daytime audience when the BBC still showed hours of Ceefax and ITV still carried schools programmes. Rather the fear was that the overnight hours would be taken from the ITV companies if they did not use them. Mrs Thatcher’s government saw the blank overnight screen as a market opportunity ITV was holding up.

So the IBA encouraged the companies to fill the night hours and by autumn 1988 they all did. There was little if any money to make but some programmes like Night Network gained cult followings. A few may have felt uncomfortable with 24-hour TV but it was enjoyed by some students and insomniacs even if most programmes were repeats or undistinguished.

But by the mid-noughties ITV had different priorities.

Ofcom allowed Teleshopping and gaming overnight on commercial public service channels – a potential source of extra revenue at a time of day with few viewers and little straightforward ad revenue. But is there a risk below the bottom line? Does Teleshopping or gaming on a major channel simply look naff and tacky?

Today the only major channel providing a genuine 24-hour schedule is Channel 4. BBC One goes to the BBC News Channel (mostly showing BBC World’s international output at this time) around the old closedown time, while BBC Two carries sign language programmes for the deaf community to record.

But is there a market niche for a major channel to simply provide entertainment all night as ITV once did? Or, in an age of on-demand and catch up, has 24-hour linear television already had its time?




Posted by Andrew Nairn

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