The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary







This article is about the British television network. ITV (or iTV) can also mean interactive television.

Independent Television (ITV) is the name given to the original network of British commercial television broadcasters, set up to provide competition to the BBC. The original 'ITV' channel has now been rebranded as ITV1 by ITV plc (the operator of the "Channel 3" franchises in England and Wales).



Note: This article (mostly) discusses the history of the ITV network as a whole; for information on individual ITV companies please see their respective articles—links to which are available in the "ITV companies: past and present" section.

The early years: 1954–1963

After much debate both in the British Parliament and the British Press, the Television Act became law in 1954. This Act paved the way for the establishment of a commercial television service in the UK, creating the Independent Television Authority (ITA). The ITA's responsibility was to regulate the new service, ensuring that the new service did not follow the same path taken by American television networks (which were perceived as "vulgar" by some people). For example, it was made obligatory that commercials be clearly distinguishable from programmes.

The "Independent Television" service, so-called because of its independence from the BBC (which previously had held a monopoly on broadcasting in the UK), was to be made up of regions, with each region run by different companies. The three largest regions (London, the Midlands and the North of England) were subdivided into weekday and weekend services, with a different company running each. Space for commercials, shown during and between programmes was always sold on a region-by-region basis by each ITV company, and not on a nationwide basis throughout the United Kingdom. The reason for this seemingly overcomplicated arrangement was to fulfil the 1954 Act's requirement for competition within the ITV system (as well as against the BBC) and also to help prevent any individual company obtaining a monopoly on commercial broadcasting.

The ITV companies were required by the terms of their licences from the ITA to provide a local television service for their particular region, including a daily local news bulletin and regular local documentaries. However, national news bulletins, covering events in the UK and the rest of the world, were (and still are) produced by Independent Television News (ITN). Until recently, ITN was owned by all the ITV companies.

Each company also produced programming that would be shown across the network (although the decision as to when or if to show each programme remained with the individual regions), with the four largest regions (known as the "Big Four"—London Weekday, London Weekend, the North of England and the Midlands) producing the bulk of this output. Each regional service had its own on-screen identity to distinguish it from other regions, since there was often a sizeable overlap between regions.

The first ITV contractor to begin broadcasting was the London Weekday contractor Associated-Rediffusion, on 22 September 1955. On the first night of telecasts, BBC, who had held the monopoly on broadcasting in Britain, aired a special episode of their popular radio soap opera The Archers on the Home Service. In the episode, core character Grace Archer was killed in a fire, and it was seen as a ploy to sway loyal viewers and listeners away from the new station.

The London Weekend contractor, ATV London (initially known as "ABC" until the Midlands weekend contractor, Associated British Corporation, complained), began two days later. The other regions all launched later:

Date Region Company
September 22 1955 London (Weekday) Associated-Rediffusion
September 24 1955 London (Weekend) Associated Television Network Limited (ATV London)
February 17 1956 Midlands (Weekday) Associated Television Network Limited (ATV Midlands)
February 18 1956 Midlands (Weekend) Associated British Corporation (ABC - not to be confused with the American Broadcasting Company or the Australian Broadcasting Corporation)
May 3 1956 North of England (Weekday) Granada Television
May 5 1956 North of England (Weekend) Associated British Corporation (ABC)
August 31 1957 Central Scotland Scottish Television
January 14 1958 South Wales and West of England Television Wales and the West (TWW)
August 30 1958 South Central and South East England Southern Television
January 15 1959 North East England Tyne Tees Television
October 31 1959 Northern Ireland Ulster Television
October 27 1959 East of England Anglia Television
April 29 1961 South West England Westward Television
September 1 1961 English-Scottish Border and Isle of Man Border Television
September 30 1961 North East Scotland Grampian Television
September 1 1962 Channel Islands Channel Television
September 14 1962 North and West Wales Wales (West and North) Television (Teledu Cymru)

The ITV regions initially broadcast on 405-line VHF. During the 1960s some commercial companies proposed the introduction of colour on the 405-line system, but the General Post Office insisted that colour should wait until the higher-definition 625-line UHF system became standard. ITV eventually introduced PAL colour on this system from 15 November, 1969, simultaneous with BBC1 and two years after BBC2. This did not, however, spread immediately across the UK; some regions, had to wait a few more years before colour was available. Colour was available to nearly 100% of the UK from 1976, with the Channel Islands being the last region to be converted. This enabled the 405-line system to be phased out between 1982 and 1985.

In general, usually a few years after their launch, the regional companies made a profit; the largest regions especially so. Roy Thomson, the Canadian founding Chairman of Scottish Television famously described the ownership of an ITV franchise as "a licence to print money". However, this was not the case with Wales (West and North) Television (WWN). Problems with the construction of their transmitter network, as well as strict provisions in their contract to produce a large amount of Welsh-language programming, meant that WWN lost a lot of money. Although WWN did receive some help from other ITV contractors, it was not enough; the company declared itself bankrupt in 1964—the only ITV company to have ever done so. The Teledu Cymru name and studio facilities were taken over by TWW, who continued to broadcast in North and West Wales using that name until 1968.

The first franchise round: 1964

Contracts to run an ITV region are not permanent. Contracts were renewed by the ITA every few years, but it was not guaranteed that the incumbent contractor would win an extension; a new company could take over instead.

The ITA's new chairman, former Postmaster General Lord Hill of Luton , undertook a licence review in September 1963. No company lost its position as the local ITV contractor for their region and all licences were extended for another three years (starting July 1964), although several companies took the opportunity relaunch their on-screen identities and change business names and shareholdings.

The second franchise round: 1968

Unlike the 'roll-over' of contracts in 1963, the 1967 review (for contracts running from the end of July 1968) was to create dramatic changes to the structure of the ITV network. The ITA made the following changes to the ITV region map:

  • Any split weekday/weekend licences were removed in all regions except London.
  • The North of England region was split into North West and Yorkshire and Lincolnshire regions.

There were also changes to the companies running each region:

  • Granada, the existing weekday contractor for the North of England region, was given a seven-day licence for the new North West region.
  • Lord Thompson of Fleet was required to divest himself of most of his holding in Scottish Television.
  • A new company, Yorkshire Television, was given the licence to broadcast in the newly created Yorkshire and Lincolnshire region.
  • ATV won the new seven-day Midlands licence, replacing ABC at the weekend.
  • ABC and Rediffusion were asked to merge by the ITA, creating Thames Television. Thames was awarded the London Weekday licence previously held by Rediffusion.
  • London Weekend Television was awarded the London Weekend licence, replacing ATV.
  • Most controversially, TWW lost its franchise for Wales and the West of England to Harlech Television, which soon became known as HTV.

Finally, the local programme guides produced in each region (except the Channel Islands) were abolished and a new company, Independent Television Publications was formed, taking over the London TV Times magazine and producing a national magazine with regional editions.

These changes led to industrial unrest in the ITV companies, culminating strike action as the new companies came on air and the replacement, for most of August 1968, of the regional network with an ITV Emergency National Service run by management.

The third franchise round: 1974

Much like 1964, and very much unlike 1968, the review of contracts in 1974 produced a 'roll-over' with almost no changes.

The IBA (the ITA was given the responsibility of regulating the new commercial "Independent Local Radio" (ILR) stations under the Sound Broadcasting Act 1972 and the name changed accordingly to the Independent Broadcasting Authority) took the opportunity of reassigning the Belmont transmitter in Lincolnshire from Anglia to Yorkshire Television, almost doubling the area served by the smallest of the "Big Five" companies.

A degree of consolidation was allowed into the system by the IBA, for instance joint advertising sales operations. One of these, Trident Management, which handled sales for Tyne Tees Television and Yorkshire Television, was allowed to perform a reverse takeover on the two companies, creating a new entity, Trident Television. Both YTV and TTT, however, retained their own identities, boards and local management.

The teletext service ORACLE was fully launched in 1974—one of the first of its kind (along with the BBC's CEEFAX).

The fourth franchise round: 1982

At the end of the 1980 the IBA reviewed the ITV broadcasting licences again, for contracts beginning on 1 January 1982. As a result, the following changes occurred:

  • ATV was considered by the IBA to have not focused on their region enough, and were ordered to change in order to keep their licence. The renamed Central Independent Television took over from ATV on 1 January 1982.
  • Southern Television lost their South of England licence, in favour of Television South (TVS).
  • Westward Television also lost their licence (for South West England), being replaced by Television South West (TSW).
  • The new nationwide breakfast television service was awarded to TV-am with a provisional start date of May 1983
  • Trident Television was ordered to sell the majority of its holdings in Yorkshire and Tyne Tees and the two companies became independent of each other again.

The Broadcasting Act of 1990

Margaret Thatcher's Conservative Party government spent much of the 1980s privatising and deregulating British industry. Commercial broadcasting was no exception. The Broadcasting Act 1990 paved the way for the deregulation of the British commercial broadcasting industry, which was to have many consequences for the ITV system.

As a result of this Act, the Independent Broadcasting Authority was abolished, and was replaced by two new "light-touch" regulators: Independent Television Commission (otherwise known as the ITC) and the Radio Authority. The small Cable Authority was also abolished and its powers transferred to the ITC.

The main change was to the system of licence allocation was changed; the "beauty contest" where applicants needed to show good programming ideas and fine financial controls was replaced by highest-bidder auctions to determine the winner of each ITV regional franchise.

The auction element of the ITV franchising process was very controversial; the press and the existing ITV companies lobbied to have it changed and the ITC agreed to introduce a "quality threshold" to prevent high bidders with poor programme plans from joining the system.

ITN, the news provider for ITV, no longer had to be exclusively owned by ITV companies. The legal name of the ITV network was changed to "Channel 3", although the network is still generally referred to as ITV by the general public and the media.

Additionally, Channel 4, which had previously been an independent subsidiary of the IBA, was now to become a Government-owned corporation patterned after the BBC. It would also begin to sell its own advertisement space - a function previously provided by each ITV company as a return for subsidising the channel.

The fifth franchise round: 1993

The results of the Channel 3 franchise auction in 1991 for contracts beginning 1 January 1993 were:

  • Television South West lost the South West England franchise to Westcountry Television.
  • Thames Television lost the London Weekday franchise to Carlton Television. However, Thames, although it has lost its broadcasting licence, still produces programmes for ITV, such as The Bill and the successful reality television programme Pop Idol.
  • TVS lost the South of England franchise to Meridian Broadcasting.
  • TV-am lost the National Breakfast television to Sunrise Television, who changed their name to GMTV before launch due to a dispute with BSkyB over the "Sunrise" name.
  • ORACLE lost the National Teletext franchise to Teletext Ltd.

All other existing ITV companies retained their regional franchises.

Television South West and TVS attempted to obtain a judicial review of the ITC's decisions and of the wording of the 1990 Act. Accordingly, the ITC held off awarding the contract to Westcountry until the review was completed. As the contract with Meridian had already been agreed, the court felt unable to conduct a review of that decision. The review of the south-west franchise process took several months but was decided in favour of the ITC (and therefore against TSW).

Consolidation since 1993

The relaxation in the franchise ownership rules as a result of the 1990 Act meant that mergers between ITV companies were now possible (even more after the Broadcasting Act 1996 , which relaxed the rules even further). This was quickly taken advantage of by the larger companies—Carlton Communications, Granada and (to a lesser extent) Scottish Television:

  • 1993:
    • Yorkshire Television and Tyne Tees re-merged, creating Yorkshire–Tyne Tees Television plc.
    • Carlton Television buys Central Independent Television.
  • 1994:
  • 1996:
    • Carlton buys Westcountry Television.
    • United News and Media purchases HTV.
  • 1997:
    • Granada acquisition of Yorkshire–Tyne Tees Television plc.
    • Scottish Media Group (SMG) acquires Grampian Television.
  • 2000:
    • Granada acquires Anglia, Meridian and HTV from UNM; Granada then sells HTV to Carlton to comply with the then-current regulatory requirements.

Carlton and Granada attempted to merge twice in the 1990s, creating a new company that would own all the Channel 3 licences in England and Wales (and the English-Scottish Border). In October 2003, the Government announced that it would no longer prevent a merger from taking place, subject to safeguards being set in place to ensure the continued independence of the Scottish Media Group, UTV and Channel Television. The merger of the two companies finally took place at the end of January 2004, and the new company—named ITV plc—started trading on 2 February, with former Carlton shareholders owning 32% and Granada shareholders owning 68% of the new shares in the company.

The choice of the name "ITV plc" was controversial, since it could imply that the company runs the entire network, and an agreement had to be reached with SMG, UTV and Channel before the name could be used. Granada and Carlton have also been criticised in the past for using the ITV name to brand their failed pay television service, ITV Digital, and the ITV Sports Channel .

Although still the major force in UK commercial television, ITV's share of the TV viewing audience has been falling for years, particularly since the start of competition by satellite television and cable, and more recently Digital Terrestrial Television. As a result, the ITV network has tried to adapt, by launching three additional channels broadcast on the main digital television platforms. ITV2 launched in 1998, and carries a mix of imported and homemade programming, as well as extended coverage of ITV's reality television programmes. The ITV News Channel shows ITV News bulletins 24-hours a day (produced by ITN). In 2004 a further general entertainment channel called ITV3 was launched.

In recognition of this fact, the ITV network (in the Carlton and Granada owned areas) was rebranded ITV1 in 2001. From October 2002 regional branding in these regions (and Channel Television) was dropped altogether, except before regional programming, with all ITV plc regions now being controlled from a reduced number of transmission centres. This has led to a number of job cuts and scaled-back operations at regional centres, with some studios being sold off altogether. In view of the national audiences they serve, Scottish, Grampian and UTV have all decided not to adopt the ITV1 brand, and still use their own individual identities at all times.


There are some programmes produced by ITV companies (past and present) that are well-known, usually in the UK, but often worldwide. These include:

In the last decade, the number of productions by 'independent' production companies (that is, companies that are independent of the ITV network) has increased. Notable examples include Thames Television (itself a former ITV contractor) and Celador, producers of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?

It is believed by some people that ITV has started "dumbing-down" in recent years. They argue that serious documentary and current affairs programmes are seldom to be seen in prime time, whilst the amount of reality television programmes and soap operas has increased (although this may be something attributed British television in general, since the BBC has been accused of the same things). In its defence, ITV does continue to show its major strengths in the fields of sports coverage and drama productions, and the production of "high-brow" programming such as The South Bank Show has continued.

ITV companies: past and present

Former ITV contractors

Current ITV franchise holders

See also

External links

The ITV companies

Unofficial sites about ITV

Last updated: 10-22-2005 18:52:43
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