ITV (TV network)

ITV, legally known as Channel 3, is a British free-to-air television network. It was launched in 1955 as Independent Television to provide competition to BBC Television (established in 1932).[1] ITV is the oldest commercial network in the UK. Since the passing of the Broadcasting Act 1990, its legal name has been Channel 3 to distinguish it from the other analogue channels at the time, BBC1, BBC2 and Channel 4.

ITV was for four decades a network of separate companies which provided regional television services and also shared programmes between each other to be shown on the entire network. Each franchise was originally owned by a different company. After several mergers, the fifteen regional franchises are now held by two companies: ITV plc, which runs the ITV channel, and STV Group, which runs the channel STV.

The ITV network is a separate entity from ITV plc, the company that resulted from the merger of Granada plc and Carlton Communications in 2004. ITV plc holds the Channel 3 broadcasting licences for every region except for central and northern Scotland, which are held by STV Group.

Today ITV plc simply commissions the network schedule centrally – programmes are made by its own subsidiary ITV Studios and independent production companies. Regional programming remains in news and some current affairs series.

In Northern Ireland, ITV plc used the brand name UTV as the name of the channel until April 2020. This was the name used by former owner UTV Media (now known as Wireless Group). ITV plc bought UTV in 2016.

Although the ITV network’s history goes back to 1955, many regional franchisees changed over the years. Some of the most important names in the network’s past – notably Thames, ABC and ATV – have no connection with the modern network.

The origins of ITV lie in the passing of the Television Act 1954, designed to break the monopoly on television held by the BBC Television Service.[1] The act created the Independent Television Authority (ITA, then IBA after the Sound Broadcasting Act) to heavily regulate the industry and to award franchises. The first six franchises were awarded in 1954 for London, the Midlands and the North of England, with separate franchises for Weekdays and Weekends.[1] The first ITV network to launch was London's Associated-Rediffusion on 22 September 1955,[2] with the Midlands and North services launching in February 1956 and May 1956 respectively. Following these launches, the ITA awarded more franchises until the whole country was covered by fourteen regional stations, all launched by 1962.

The network has been modified several times through franchise reviews that have taken place in 1963,[3] 1967,[4] 1974,[5] 1980[6][7] and 1991,[8] during which broadcast regions have changed and service operators have been replaced. Only one service operator has ever been declared bankrupt, WWN in 1963,[9] with all other operators leaving the network as a result of a franchise review. Separate weekend franchises were removed in 1968 (with the exception of London)[3] and over the years more services were added; these included a national breakfast franchise from 1983 onward—operating between 6:00 am and 9:25 am—and a teletext service.[6] The Broadcasting Act 1990 changed the nature of ITV; the then regulator the IBA was replaced with a light-touch regulator, the ITC; companies became able to purchase other ITV regional companies[10] and franchises were now being awarded based upon a highest-bidder auction, with few safeguards in place.[8] This heavily criticised part of the review saw four operators replaced, and the operators facing different annual payments to the Treasury: Central Television, for example, paid only £2,000—despite holding a lucrative and large region—because it was unopposed, while Yorkshire Television paid £37.7 million for a region of the same size and status, owing to heavy competition.[8][11]

Following the 1993 changes, ITV as a network began to consolidate with several companies doing so to save money by ceasing the duplication of services present when they were all separate companies. By 2004, ITV was owned by five companies, of which two, Carlton and Granada had become major players by owning between them all the franchises in England, Wales, the Scottish borders and the Isle of Man.[12][13][14] That same year, the two merged to form ITV plc[12][13][14] with the only subsequent acquisitions being the takeover of Channel Television, the Channel Islands franchise, in 2011;[15] and UTV, the franchise for Northern Ireland, in 2015.

The ITV network is not owned or operated by one company, but by a number of licensees, which provide regional services while also broadcasting programmes across the network. Since 2016, the fifteen licences are held by two companies, with the majority held by ITV Broadcasting Limited, part of ITV plc.

The network is regulated by the media regulator Ofcom who is responsible for awarding the broadcast licences. The last major review of the Channel 3 franchises was in 1991, with all operators' licences having been renewed between 1999 and 2002 and again from 2014 without a further contest. While this has been the longest period that the ITV Network has gone without a major review of its licence holders, Ofcom announced (following consultation) that it would split the Wales and West licence from 1 January 2014, creating a national licence for Wales and joining the newly separated West region to Westcountry Television, to form a new licence for the enlarged South West of England region.

All companies holding a licence were part of the non-profit body ITV Network Limited, which commissioned and scheduled network programming, with compliance previously handled by ITV plc and Channel Television. However, due to amalgamation of several of these companies since the creation of ITV Network Limited (and given Channel Television is now owned by ITV plc), it has been replaced by an affiliation system.[16] Approved by Ofcom, this results in ITV plc commissioning and funding the network schedule, with STV and UTV paying a fee to broadcast it.[16] All licensees have the right to opt out of network programming (except for the national news bulletins), however many do not due to pressures from the parent company or because of limited resources.[16] Prior to the affiliate system being introduced, STV would frequently (and sometimes controversially) opt out of several popular network programmes – such as the original run of the first series of Downton Abbey – citing the need to provide more Scottish content to its viewers.[17]

As a public service broadcaster, the ITV network is obliged to broadcast programming of public importance, including news, current affairs, children's and religious programming as well as party election broadcasts on behalf of the major political parties and political events, such as the Budget. The network also needs to produce accessible output containing subtitles, signing and audio description. In exchange for this programming, the ITV network is available on all platforms free to air and can be found at the top of the EPG of all providers.

Since the launch of the platform in 1998, all of the ITV licensees have received gifted capacity on the digital terrestrial television platform. At present, the companies are able to broadcast additional channels and all choose to broadcast the ITV plc owned ITV2, ITV3, ITV4 and CITV in their region. UTV and STV (formerly Scottish Television and Grampian Television) previously broadcast their own services – UTV2 in Northern Ireland and S2 in central and northern Scotland – until 2002, when they adopted the ITV plc channels. The broadcasters all make use of the Digital 3&4 multiplex, shared with Channel 4. ITV Encore launched in June 2014 and ITVBe launched in October 2014. ITV Box Office launched in February 2017.

ITV plc owns thirteen of the fifteen franchises and broadcasts to England, Wales, southern Scotland, the Isle of Man, the Channel Islands and Northern Ireland through its subsidiary company ITV Broadcasting Limited.[15] The company also owns the breakfast television licence,[18] which as of January 2020, broadcasts across the network between 6:00 and 10:00am each morning using the Good Morning Britain (previously Daybreak) and Lorraine names. The company broadcasts a centralised service under the ITV brand. In Northern Ireland, ITV used the UTV brand name as the name of the channel until April 2020.

The group also owns ITV Studios, the production arm of the company and formed from an amalgamation of all the production departments of the regional licences they own. The company produces a large proportion of ITV's networked programming (around 47%, but previously as high as 66% according to some reports[19]), with the rest coming primarily from independent suppliers (under the Broadcasting Act 1990, at least 25% of ITV's total output must be from independent companies).[20] ITV plc hopes to increase the amount of in-house programming to as close to the 75% limit as possible.

The group cut the number of regional news programmes offered from 17 in 2007 to 9 by 2009, resulting several regions being merged to form one programme, including the Border Television and Tyne Tees Television regions, the Westcountry Television and West regions and the removal of sub regional programming, with some regions only represented by pre-recorded segments. [21]

STV Group plc owns two franchises, covering central and northern Scotland, through subsidiary companies STV Central and STV North, broadcasting a central service under the STV brand.

The company has had several disputes with ITV plc in recent years over network programming. STV aims to broadcast more Scottish programmes at peak times and so removed several key ITV plc programmes from their schedule in July 2009 including The Bill, Midsomer Murders and Lewis.[22] Despite STV's explanation of expense, ITV plc were angered by the decision, as a recent schedule change had made The Bill central to their programming, and broadcast the programmes on ITV3 as well to ensure Scottish viewers could see the programmes. On 23 September ITV was reported to be in the process of suing STV for £20 million, as ITV plc felt dropping the shows constituted a breach of network agreements;[23] STV subsequently counter-sued ITV plc for £35 million.

The dispute was ended in 2011 with STV agreeing to pay ITV plc £18 million. The signing of the new affiliation deal has resulted in STV paying a flat fee for all networked programming, and so to drop any programmes is unlikely due to the large costs involved.[24]

There are fifteen regional licences, covering fourteen regions (there are separate weekday and weekend licences for the London region), and one national licence for the breakfast service. All licences listed here were renewed until the end of 2024. Licences in England and Wales were held by the individual regional ITV plc owned companies prior to November 2008.[25]

The appointment to provide national news for Channel 3 is also subject to approval by Ofcom. This appointment has been held by ITN since the channel's inception, and has also been approved through the end of 2024.[26]

ITV share of viewing 1981–2008 Broadcasters' Audience Research Board figures.

For over 60 years of ITV, its homegrown programmes have become among the best remembered as well as being extremely successful. Before the 1990s, nearly all of the content for the channel was produced by the fifteen franchise licensees: the regional companies.

However, in the last decade, and following legislation in the Broadcasting Act 1990 imposing a 25% quota for commissioning of independent productions,[20] the number of programmes from independent production companies not connected to the traditional ITV Network, has increased rapidly. Notable examples include Talkback Thames (one half of which, Thames Television, was itself a former ITV franchisee), producers of The Bill and co-producers of The X Factor, and 2waytraffic (previously Celador), producers of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?.

From the late 1990s, ITV's long-standing commitment to strong current affairs and documentary programming began to diminish with the ending of productions such as World in Action (Granada Television), This Week (Rediffusion London/Thames Television), First Tuesday (Yorkshire Television), Network First, Survival (Anglia Television), and Weekend World (LWT) and their replacement with populist shows such as Tonight. News at Ten was also axed in 1999, although it was reinstated in 2001. In December 2009, the final edition of ITV's long-running arts programme, The South Bank Show was broadcast.

ITV's primetime schedules are dominated by its soap operas, such as the flagship Coronation Street and Emmerdale. At the start of the 21st century, Independent Television faced criticism for including a large amount of "reality TV" programmes in the schedule, such as Celebrity Fit Club, Celebrity Wrestling and Love Island. In its defence, ITV does continue to show its major strengths in the fields of sports coverage and drama productions, and it continues to schedule national news in primetime.

ITV's strong daytime line-up helped by programmes such as This Morning, Loose Women, Good Morning Britain, Dickinson's Real Deal and game shows Tipping Point and The Chase are very popular, achieving the highest audience share during the daytime slot.[30]

Since the network started, Independent Television News Limited (ITN) has held the contract to produce news for the ITV Network, with 30-minute national news bulletins currently broadcast at 1:30 pm, 6:30 pm, and 10:00 pm. These bulletins were broadcast under the ITN brand from 1955 until 1999, when a new network identity reinforced the ITV brand, resulting in the new bulletins being broadcast under the ITV News brand.[31][32]

ITN has long been respected in the news industry as a source of reliable information and news, and as a result the service has won many awards for their programmes, the latest being in May 2011 when News at Ten was named best news programme by the Royal Television Society and BAFTA.

Television has been broadcast on ITV at breakfast since 1 February 1983. It was initially run by an independent contractor - TV-am, and later GMTV - until GMTV Limited became a wholly owned subsidiary of ITV plc in November 2009.[33]

Historically, ITV aired breakfast programmes from 6am until 9.25am but ITV extended this to 10am on weekdays on 6 January 2020.[34] and now broadcasts two breakfast programmes on weekdays - Good Morning Britain and Lorraine. Good Morning Britain keeps viewers up to date with all the latest news, sports, features and weather, whilst Lorraine predominantly focuses on celebrity interviews, recipes, fashion and showbiz. At weekends, ITV Breakfast airs children's programming, a simulcast of CITV Breakfast, under the CITV brand.

The regional ITV companies are required to provide local news as part of their franchise agreement together with local weather forecasts, with the main local bulletin at 6pm and regional bulletins located after each national news programme. In addition to this, traditionally ITV companies would provide other regional programming based on current affairs, entertainment or drama. However, apart from a monthly political programme, most non-news regional programming in the English regions was dropped by ITV plc in 2009, although it continues in Wales and the Channel Islands, as well as on STV and UTV and ITV Border in Scotland from 2014 to cover mainly Scottish politics whilst ITV Border in England broadcast network programming .[35] On 14 January 2013, ITV plc regional news programmes titles were discontinued in favour of more generic branding under the ITV News title with the region listed as the subheading. However some "heritage" brand names were retained including Calendar, Granada Reports and Lookaround. On 28 June 2014, ITV Cymru Wales News returned to its historic name of Wales at Six.

The ITV National Weather forecast was first broadcast in 1989, using data supplied by the Met Office, and was presented by a number of weather forecasters. The forecasts are sponsored in which the sponsors message, would appear prior to and following the forecast. The forecasts are made immediately after the main national news bulletins.

Prior to the creation of the national forecast, regional forecast provided by each regional companies were shown in each region only. The regional forecasts today are incorporated into the main regional news bulletins, and in the summer months, includes a Pollen Count.

The network broadcasts children's programming under the CITV (Children's ITV) strand. Children's programming was originally provided during weekday afternoons and weekend mornings, however following the launch of the CITV Channel in 2006, all children's programming, with the exception of the weekend ITV Breakfast slot, were relocated from the ITV line-up to the CITV channel in 2007, a move which was challenged by Ofcom in April 2007.

The Public Teletext Licence[49] allows the holder to broadcast a text-based information service around the clock on Channel 3 (as well as Channel 4 and S4C) frequencies. Teletext on ITV was provided by ORACLE from 1974 until 1993 and from 1993 to 2010 by Teletext Ltd., whose news, sport and TV listings pages rivalled the BBC's offering, Ceefax on terrestrial and BBC Red Button on digital. Teletext Ltd. also provided digital teletext for the Channel 3 services, as well as the text output for both Channel 4 and S4C under the same licence and Channel 5. However, the licence was revoked by Ofcom on 29 January 2010 for failing to provide news and local non-news information on ITV and there is currently no teletext licence holder for ITV.[50]

Schools programming on the network began in 1957 in some regions and expanded as more regions began broadcasting. It was a contractual obligation for some ITV companies to broadcast schools programming, and this was initially broadcast as part of the normal scheduling. The programmes were moved into a segment for broadcast during the day in the 1960s, under the banner Independent Television for Schools and Colleges and from 1987 were broadcast on Channel 4 in the ITV Schools on Channel 4 segment. In 1993, this segment became Channel 4 Schools and later in 2000 4Learning. These strands of programming consisted of schools programming from all the ITV companies or from independent sources. The schools strand itself is now defunct, with no particular branding segment used.

ITV (as UTV) is widely available in Ireland, where it is received directly in areas bordering Northern Ireland, or in coastal areas from Wales (as ITV Cymru Wales). Until 2015, it was also carried on cable, when it was replaced by UTV Ireland, which was itself replaced by be3, now Virgin Media Three. ITV programming is also available to Irish viewers on Virgin Media One (including soap operas Emmerdale and Coronation Street). ITV is also available on cable and IPTV in Switzerland and Liechtenstein. Since 27 March 2013, it has been offered by the British Forces Broadcasting Service (BFBS) to members of HM Forces and their families around the world, replacing the BFBS3 TV channel, which already carried a selection of ITV programmes.[51]

Since the launch of ITV, there have been concerns from politicians and the press that ITV faced a conflict concerning programme audiences and advertisers. As advertisers are reluctant to buy advertising space around low viewing programmes, there is a pressure on ITV to broadcast more popular programmes in peak times. This has become more profound in recent years following a relaxation in regulation and significantly more competition in the advertising market following the huge increase in commercial channels. In recent years, programmes have started to dominate from the reality television genre including the celebrity and talent show subgenres. This has led to accusations of ITV 'dumbing down' their programmes and appealing to the 'lowest common denominator', accusations that are at odds with the network's status as a public service broadcaster.[52][53] ITV was/is also heavily criticised for scaling back its regional programmes, including regional news, also ITV has been criticised (since 2010) for showing Emmerdale and Coronation Street at the 8:30 weekday slot (except Tuesdays).