ITV confirms no return to UTV branding in Northern Ireland

There was an inevitability about today’s news that ITV branding on UTV is to become permanent.

Announcers Julian Simmons and Gillian Porter are to leave the station. The current arrangements – initially introduced at the height of the pandemic in April – are to stay.

This will be little surprise, of course, to regular readers of my articles.

Back in 2016, there was always the suspicion that the rebranding of UTV in the style of ITV and the discontinuation of in-vision continuity was a “transitional phase”. The move followed the takeover of UTV by ITV plc a few months earlier.

Was UTV really different to any other ITV plc region? Especially Wales where distinct local branding and local announcers were phased out more than a decade ago.

UTV was a strong local brand – but was ITV really that unfamiliar to local viewers?

It was to ITV’s credit that they were clearly true to their word and in no rush to ditch the UTV branding even if it did look “transitional”.

It survived minor network brand refreshes and, in particular, the introduction of new idents on the network in January 2019.

There is no suggestion that ITV cynically used the pandemic to make changes it had been working towards. Had the crisis only lasted for a few weeks, then UTV would have returned – at least for the moment.

But as time went on, it became clearer and clearer that there would be little point in going back to the “old ways”. ITV’s brand was becoming familiar in Northern Ireland, ratings were holding up and there was little – if any – backlash.

Hopefully Julian and Gillian will be able to get the leaving dos they deserve after so long with the company, at least once the crisis is over.

So with the new arrangements for continuity and network trails made permanent, what of the remaining distinctive parts of UTV branding? Will the rest of the on screen identity gradually fade out, just as it has in other ITV regions.

  • Will UTV Live start to include explicit ITV News branding?
  • Will the local weather branding be modified?
  • Will local trailers continue to refer to UTV? Or will they switch to ITV branding?
  • Will the EPG continue to refer to UTV or “ITV UTV”?

I suspect there would be no immediate urgency to make these changes, if they happen at all. They would not save any money or make operations easier.

The question is whether ITV would want to continue to build its brand in Northern Ireland? Or whether they may happen by stealth whenever graphics get refreshed or systems updated?

It should be stressed that UTV’s local programmes are not affected by these changes. Any lasting changes to the volume of local output would require Ofcom approval.

Today is the end of an era – but it was an era that really ended nearly 8 months ago.

Acknowledgements

FEATURE IMAGE:

PICTURED: UTV Ident. SUPPLIED BY: The TV Room. COPYRIGHT: ITV plc.

Posted by Andrew Nairn

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