U.K. news shakeup

ITV seeks to move newscast to early berth

LONDON — The ITV network is proposing the biggest primetime shake-up in its history, with the announcement that it wants to move its flagship news bulletin from 10 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.

ITV has applied to the Independent Television Commission for permission to move News at Ten, in order to clear the way for a more aggressively commercial primetime schedule.

The move would enable ITV to screen more feature films and telepics at 9 p.m., followed by latenight half-hour bulletin at 11pm.

The web also has unveiled plans for a primetime current affairs show modeled on CBS’ “60 Minutes” and a peaktime documentary to counter accusations that it is attempting to sell out its public service remit.

News at Ten, produced for ITV by Independent Television News, is a national institution, and has been the cornerstone of the ITV evening schedule for decades. But in recent years the ITV companies have increasingly regarded its timing as a major handicap in competing with the upstart cable and satellite services.

“The shape of ITV’s evening schedule has been the same for 30 years, but the broadcasting environment for which it was originally created has changed beyond recognition,” said ITV chief exec Richard Eyre.

The first attempt by the ITV companies to shift News at Ten out of the heart of primetime, back in 1993, was blocked by the ITC. The then prime minister John Major and other senior politicians put their weight behind the ITC’s decision.

Smaller aud

But signs are that this time around ITV will get its way. The web’s peaktime share has dropped from 44.3% to 38.8% since 1994, and in the first five months of 1997 ITV suffered a 27% drop in its 10 p.m. viewing figures.

This, combined with research that shows increasing appetite among viewers for an early evening news show, is likely to ensure the web a sympathetic hearing from the ITC and political leaders.

In the past, politicians have been particularly wedded to News at Ten because major parliamentary votes often take place at 10:15 p.m. — too late for the BBC’s main 9 p.m. bulletin, but allowing ITV to carry live coverage of important decisions. ITV is clearly hoping that its new 11 pm bulletin will head off political opposition to the move this time around.

One particular problem posed by the existing News at Ten is that films starting at 9 p.m. have to break at 10 p.m. before resuming 40 minutes later. Channel 5, when it launched last year, based much of its advertising campaign on the promise to show movies uninterrupted from 9 p.m.

“The new schedule will enable ITV to provide a better service for a wider audience,” said Eyre. “It will have a richer content and is designed to increase ITV’s audiences, with particular emphasis on younger and more upmarket viewers.”

Trevor Mcdonald, the principal anchor of News at Ten, has agreed a new longtime contract with the web to present the new 6:30 p.m. bulletin, if it goes ahead.

Meanwhile, ITV is proposing a 10 p.m. news show on its new digital terrestrial service ITV2.

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