Industry calls for ITV to ‘get with the programme’

At last there’s agreement on a permanent 10.30pm news slot on ITV. Now it’s up to ITV to deliver a strong evening schedule for advertisers. By Andy Zonfrillo

What a chequered history the ITV News at Ten has had. First the broadcaster was told that it could move its news bulletin from its original time slot, then it was told to move it back; but on certain days it was allowed to move it again. To muddy the waters further – and create even less choice for the viewer – the BBC has moved its news bulletin to 10pm.

Confused? The viewing public certainly were. Well, Hallelujah! Finally ITV and the Independent Television Commission have agreed that the weekday news on ITV should have a permanent home – at 10.30pm.

In reality, who cares what time ITV shows its late evening news, as long as it’s not at the same time as the BBC’s bulletin? What the majority of advertisers wanted from ITV’s late evening news was a time that’s later than its current slot, which they now have. All the viewers want is to know when it’s on and to have consistency.

In the time since the current ITV franchises were won, the broadcasting map has seen fundamental changes. For half the UK population, news bulletins on television are already a 24-hour occurrence, catered for by at least seven dedicated channels. For the other half, they can watch news at 6pm, 6.30pm, 7pm, 10pm, 10.30pm and five times a night on Five.

It’s not before time that ITV and the ITC have found a workable compromise. Now ITV can concentrate on building a strong and consistent programme schedule all the way until 10.30pm. This should be good news for ITV, providing it grasps this opportunity; commercial impacts must surely increase in this half-hour slot, which will benefit advertisers.

As for viewers, they’ll know when they can find the news on ITV and if they want to watch it, that’s good. If not, there’s more than enough opportunity for them to watch the news on another channel, and indeed for advertisers to reach them in a news environment somewhere else.

The News at Ten, or rather 10.30pm, lost its importance for the majority of advertisers a number of years ago. It’s been a few years since I’ve had a conversation along the lines of “We’ve had the chairman on the phone and you’ve got to buy a spot in News at Ten.” Those upmarket advertisers that do want an association with the news will have little concern whether a spot goes out at 10.15pm or 10.45pm.

Advertisers and agencies will want to see that ITV makes good use of this consistent half hour in the late peak schedule and ensures that it increases the commercial audience share by producing a schedule that holds the viewer past the BBC1 news. I’d like to see new dramas or original productions filling this slot, rather than imports or repeats attempting to increase audiences at the lowest cost.

ITV has a real opportunity, but we’ll have to wait and see what it comes up with; after all, a number of other issues concern its management at the moment.

Andy Zonfrillo is broadcast buying director at MindShare

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