Competition proves too hot as ITV axes News Channel

The cut-throat world of 24-hour rolling news suffered its first casualty yesterday when it was announced that the ITV News Channel is to close with the loss of up to 70 jobs.

Unions branded the decision an "outrage" and a "kick in the stomach" in the run-up to Christmas.

ITV decided it was no longer commercially viable to keep the channel running in the face of sustained competition from rivals BBC News 24 and Sky News. It wants to free up the valuable Freeview spectrum the news service currently occupies to launch a new children's channel next year.

Speculation has been rife for weeks that the news channel was on the brink of closure, but ITN, which runs the service on behalf of ITV, reassured staff there could be a reprieve.

That hope was extinguished yesterday morning, when ITN chief executive Mark Wood told staff the service would close at the end of January.

An ITN spokeswoman said that "in the worst case" up to 70 posts could be cut. Despite an annual investment of around £3.5m, the news channel has failed to increase audiences. In November, its share of the audience in multi-channel homes was just 0.12 per cent, compared to Sky News and BBC News 24 which were neck and neck on 0.55 per cent and 0.54 per cent. Across 24 hours, average viewing figures for the ITV News Channel were just 8,000.

ITV has pledged to invest £2m in improving the news on ITV1, launching new bulletins on the digital channels ITV2 and ITV3, creating a bureau in Beijing.

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