ITV has won an important concession from the regulator Ofcom, which has relaxed its obligation to air regional news.
Ofcom said ITV will be able to cut the amount of local news from 30 minutes to 20 minutes in its early-evening bulletins in most parts of the country – with the exception of London and the North-west.
The broadcaster said it did not intend to cut the length of the early-evening regional news from its present 30-minute length in any part of the country, but Ofcom’s decision to relax the rules means the broadcaster is not obliged to fill it entirely with local news from that region. Instead, it plans to run 20 minutes of local news mixed with a further 10 minutes of news that might come from outside the region but still be relevant.
Ofcom said: “In most regions, the benefits to viewers of a more localised news service will more than offset the reduction in the amount of regional news that ITV is required to provide under its licences.”
The regulator has eased the rules because ITV agreed to provide more localised news across 14 regions, rather than eight at present. Ofcom will also let ITV cut the length of regional news lunchtime bulletins from 6.5 minutes to three and late-evening regional bulletins from 10 minutes to five.
ITV said it welcomed Ofcom’s decision “which will keep strong, sustainable local programming at the heart of our schedule”. ITV and its counterparts in Scotland and Northern Ireland – STV and UTV – and Channel 5 must broadcast news as part of their licence obligations, which are up for renewal at the end of 2014.
The regulator’s new rules will come into force as part of new 10-year licences, giving the commercial broadcasters certainty until the end of 2024. The BBC and Channel 4, which are state-owned, have different obligations.
Having the licence to broadcast on Channel 3 and Channel 5 remains a valuable commercial asset because both are at the top of the electronic programme guide on TV screens, even in cable and satellite homes, and bring in big audiences. Ofcom has not changed the licence obligations for Richard Desmond’s Channel 5.
ITV shares, which closed down 3.6p at 154.8p, have soared 50 per cent this year on hopes of an advertising recovery.
Advertising key to success
ITV’s chairman Archie Norman made easing regulation a priority when he took the helm in 2009. While the broadcaster’s fortunes have soared, regulators have had little do with it.
Instead, an advertising recovery has boosted ITV, whose biggest shows such as X Factor and Broadchurch command audiences of 10 million-plus – unlike rivals.
That’s why regulators have not lifted contracts rights renewal, the rules that keep a lid on ITV ad prices. Easing regulation on regional news quotas looks minor in comparison.