The official end of UTV continuity marks the end of regional announcers at ITV plc – only STV, an entirely separate company, still has them.
It’s been a long drawn out demise stretching back to the mid-1990s. Naturally those of us with an interest in pres will see a significance in the closing of the curtain.
But what some younger people may not appreciate is why regional announcers were once so integral to ITV. They were not merely there to provide branding or give a local flavour to a national service.
First of all each ITV company was a fiercely independent operation – as STV still is.
Schedules varied dramatically across the country – the changes weren’t simply for regional programmes and timeshifts, especially in the afternoon and late evening.
Each station had its own corporate pride, routine sheet, promotions department and marketing strategy.
Most saw on-screen announcers as an important part of their local image. Local control rooms required local announcers. Indeed it was once a union requirement that an announcer was needed whenever the station was on air.
But, frankly, as ITV consolidated and the world moved on this all became anachronistic. A federal business structure for lTV makes no sense in a multi-channel world.
Of course, many deeply regret the loss of programme-making skills in centres across the UK – the decline of the old ITV regions played a part in this but anyone who laments the loss of the old powerhouse of Central will also lament the loss of BBC network programming from Birmingham.
The volume of actual regional programming on ITV fell dramatically too.
However, remember this. ITV is no longer a monopoly where the regulator can make grand demands. It is a business and a regulator has to be realistic about what it can ask the company to do in return for the right to be on Channel 3. Ask too much and ITV could simply hand back its licences and broadcast elsewhere.
Local continuity and branding is not a legal requirement – it can only exist if their is a business case for it.
This is quite distinct from arguments about the BBC. As a publicly funded service, the BBC has to spend money in the nations and regions of the UK. Indeed many argue it does not spend nearly enough in them.
Regional presentation is part of that spend. And distinct branding in the nations helps show that major BBC services like BBC One are tailored for each nation.
BBC regional announcers are also in charge of transmission – unlike ITV regional announcers of old. Presentation departments have a lot to do besides covering up network announcements.
The arguments concerning the two broadcasters are quite different.
But, yes, an era ending is a time to reflect. And perhaps ponder on the far more significant things which led ITV to where it is today.
PICTURED: Julian Simmons. COPYRIGHT: ITV plc.