Today station rebrands are ten a penny but the most radical rebrand of all came at the instigation of the regulator. Central was not a brand new company when it took to the air in the Midlands in 1982 – it was effectively ATV in all but name.
The IBA had insisted on changes to ATV in return for the renewal of its franchise. It insisted on the construction of a new studio centre in the Midlands to replace its Elstree complex – the legacy of the company’s London franchise before 1968. (An understandable point for a regulator committed to regionalism to deal with.)
And it insisted that ATV’s parent ACC sell 49% of its shares in the company. (The IBA had made other interventions over company ownership and shareholdings before – this was not unprecedented.)
But it also insisted on a new name for the company. So why?
ATV was criticised by some for a lack of a regional identity and alleged lack of commitment to the Midlands. But was it fair to single out the name? After all Granada hardly referred to the north west of England. It only came to be synonymous because so much of the company’s network output had a clear link with the area.
Similarly HTV – a reference to the company’s founder and a castle – was hardly reflective of Wales, far less the west of England.
And, for that matter, was the name Grampian – usually associated with Aberdeen and the north east – a good name for a station covering so much of Scotland?
Undoubtedly ATV had faced a fire on two fronts in the late-70s and early 80s. Some local councils and MPs were concerned so many jobs and prestigious programmes were based outside the area – a situation by then unique in ITV. The East Midlands also felt overlooked.
Meanwhile the company’s populism – particularly the oft-derided Crossroads – won it few friends amongst the chattering classes. This was despite the fact that the company had many quality programmes and played a pivotal role in ITV’s schools output.
The alleged weaknesses in the output were exactly the kind of things the IBA had the power to address. But was an ordered rebrand necessary? The argument was that it would show the public that substantive changes had been made. But couldn’t this have been a decision for the company to deliberate?
Outside the Midlands, of course, the effect simply was that a new ident was seen before ATV programmes – there were few immediate changes to network output. Locally the big change was the eventual introduction of a distinct service for the East Midlands.
Eventually though ACC sold off its entire stake in Central and legacy ATV programmes gradually ended. The new complex in Nottingham housed a big force in ITV.
Central’s moon eclipsed the shine of its ancestor. Undoubtedly the company enjoyed a good local reputation and got the credit it deserved for quality programmes like Inspector Morse.
But could ATV’s local reputation have improved after the changes to the output were properly marketed? Was a brand – undoubtedly remembered fondly for its light entertainment – needlessly consigned to history early?
How ironic that 17 years later Central was one of the first regions to lose its identity. It was rebranded as Carlton in 1999 even though the takeover had happened years earlier.
And adding to the irony was the comment from the ITC reported by some newspapers. It had no power, a spokesman said, over the name but would have thought a regional name could have been a marketing advantage.
PICTURED: ATV ident (early 1980s). SUPPLIED BY: Online. COPYRIGHT: ITV plc.