ITV: uniting the network (Part 2)

A few weeks ago I took a look at the ultimate failure of the first attempt to create a unitary image for ITV. So how did a single image for most of ITV come into being barely a decade later? It’s a long tale involving takeover deals, marketing and changes to television itself.

Presentation enthusiasts sometimes cite October 2002 as if it were the only significant moment in the erosion of ITV’s traditional regional identities. That was the moment when regional announcers were made redundant and networked continuity and idents were introduced in England. It was a watershed moment but part of a longer story. The first step in the story involves the process of mergers which led to ITV plc in 2004.

Between 1992 and 1997 the English and Welsh regions gradually came into the ownership of three companies – Granada, Carlton and MAI (later United News and Media).

Regions kept their identities (save Tyne Tees briefly) but naturally promotions and presentation departments were an obvious target for accountants seeking synergies. This, for instance, led to shared announcers and the reintroduction of ITV branding on trails. Oddly, it meant in London viewers would see one style of ITV trail for weekday programmes and another for weekends.

By 1998 the idea of a consistent ITV branding was being spoken about again. A new logo was introduced and a national promotions unit was created, replacing those of individual companies. The following year the Carlton companies introduced new idents featuring the ITV logo (ditching the local names in Central and Westcountry) while the other English and Welsh stations went for a different design. So by the point network continuity was introduced in 2002, regional presentation had been watered down and ITV 1, as it was then known, was also a familiar brand.

But much more significant changes were happening elsewhere. The consolidation of the network gradually reduced the regional variations between schedules. Then in 2001, the volume of regional programmes in each area was standardised – finally ending the points in the schedule which were neither networked or truly regional.

The identities of each region were always about far, far more than local continuity. It was, of course, principally about programmes. Did viewers judge their local company by the quality of its local service? Was it also about its broader reputation? It seems hard to believe many in the north west based their view of Granada on local output alone – not the company’s ethos, reputation and prestigious or popular network programmes.

By the same token, a viewer in the Westcountry knew 4 brands in 18 years – Westward, TSW, Westcountry and Carlton.

But by 2002 it was reasonable to argue that the schedule was consistent across England – either properly networked or genuinely regional with regional output shown at the same time in each area.

Confining the regional names to regional output appeared an obvious development. It saved money but also allowed consistent marketing and presentation.

Anecdotally, the loyalty viewers may have felt to local names varied from area to area and group to group. What did people call the channel? The current local name? An old local name? ITV? ITV 1?

Just over a year later, ITV plc came into being – but this corporate mega merger only reflected what viewers might have thought had already happened.

Gradually, regional output fell with Ofcom approval. Ultimately this spelled the end for the remaining uses of regional names outside local news and weather. Even the regional variations columns in papers and magazines have declined in prominence and importance.

October 2002 was a key moment but only part of the story.

Acknowledgements

FEATURE IMAGE:

PICTURED: ITV break bumper. SUPPLIED BY: The TV Room. COPYRIGHT: ITV plc.

Posted by Andrew Nairn

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