ITN gets the licence to broadcast its appeal

After more than 40 years, ITN has at last become a licensed broadcaster wit its own channel – Euronews- and a host of programmes which are definitely not the ten o’clock news, says Stewart Purvis. Stewart Purvis is the chief executive of ITN

How come a television company which was there on the first night of ITV in 1955 only gets to become a licensed broadcaster in November 1997? And how come the licence is from the Conseil Supérieur de l’Audiovisuel not the Independent Television Commission or the Radio Authority?

Until a fortnight ago the closest ITN got to being a licensed broadcaster was its “nominated news provider” status granted by the ITC or its shareholding in the London News Radio licence from the Radio Authority. Its 96m annual turnover was composed of contracts with broadcasters – TV and radio – to supply news and other factual programming.

But taking operating control of the pan-European TV news channel Euronews means that the company has a channel of its own, managed in co-operation with the leading European public broadcasters from France, Italy, Spain and Switzerland.

It may have taken 42 years for ITN to become a broadcaster but it has not been for lack of trying. The problem with running news channels was that they are normally launched either by public broadcasters with licence-fee payers’ money to subsidise them or by tycoons with long-term vision and certainly deep pockets.

Licence-fee money we did not have. Nor did we have tycoon partners, although I can remember some interesting encounters alongside former ITN editor and chief executive David Nicholas in the Eighties.

For example: Ted Turner: talks about joint ventures got nowhere when he wouldn’t accept any dilution of the CNN brand. Rupert Murdoch: asked us to quote for Sky News then told us he’d decided to do it himself (a free way of getting a benchmark cost). Robert Maxwell: a phone call from his yacht asking if we’d like to join him in buying the ailing Superchannel for 1.

Acquiring Euronews, which reaches 91 million homes in 43 countries, looks much better value although not without risk. The distribution is impressive, but so was Superchannel’s. What makes Euronews different is that the deficit funding provided by the public broadcasters and European institutions has been turned into proper contracts for programme services. Also, digital technology will reduce the costs of production and distribution and increase the income from new channels.

Everything ITN does has to work at the bottom line. So we’ve expanded from being the news department of one broadcaster, ITV, to supplying the three commercial terrestrial broadcasters and we’ve broadened the core business. We’ve acquired, with partners, Independent Radio News which five years ago was in severe financial trouble and is now editorally and commercially successful, and London News Radio which has been turned round in just over a year.

The ITN brand is only used on-screen in the UK on ITV’s news service. External focus is on the fortunes of News at Ten. So unless you look carefully at the end credits this Christmas you wouldn’t notice that a total of four documentaries going out on ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 are made by ITN.

You won’t see any credit at all on the Queen’s Christmas Broadcast – made for the first time by ITN on behalf of ITV. And there’s no reason why you would expect that the travel news on Capital Radio comes from an ITN joint venture. So be prepared for a few more announcements of programmes that are definitely not the ten o’clock news.

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