ITN plans a 24-hour digital news channel

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ITN is preparing to launch a 24 hour television news channel to compete with BBC News 24 and Sky News, the company confirmed yesterday.

ITN is preparing to launch a 24 hour television news channel to compete with BBC News 24 and Sky News, the company confirmed yesterday.

The news programme's executives have held talks in recent weeks with ONdigital and cable television companies with the aim of launching the 24 hour service on digital television next year. ONdigital, said insiders, has told ITN, which produces news for ITV and Channels 4 and 5, that it has no room for the news channel, but cable companies such as NTL are said to be keener.

"ITN has never hidden its desire to produce a UK news channel and we have been holding a number of discussions with people in the industry," a spokesman said.

Other broadcasters are trying to work out how ITN can make a profit from the project. "Sky News doesn't make any money, and the market is messed up by the fact that News 24 is provided free to digital television," said one.

ITN is building up its website to try to compete with BBC NewsOnline and, said a media analyst, the company might see a profitable future in running a 24 hour news operation serving the Internet, as well as television and radio - possibly with a joint venture partner contributing funds.

The plans are attracting angry resistance on the newsroom floors where staff are being asked to work longer hours, on more flexible rotas.

Last week ITN's chief executive Stewart Purvis gave a presentation on the new conditions to programme staff but received a hostile reception when he told them that newsrooms must run on a "24-seven" basis - that is, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Unions are to meet on Monday to discuss their reaction. "Regardless of 24 hour news, we are expected to work flat out for no pay rise," a ITN journalist said. "Morale is really low - this has come so soon after the loss of News at Ten. Our motto here is 'no money, no life'."

Others said staff at ITV and Channel 4 are protesting at being asked to copy the work practices of Channel 5 news where, "so many people are young and working incredible hours for low pay. It's not unknown for work experience students to be sent out with a camera to do an interview - it's very depressing."

ITN was recently forced to cut costs on Channel 5 News when its contract came up for renewal. "Sky put in a very competitive bid and ITN was forced to undercut them. That means that costs at Channel 5, which is already run on a shoestring, need to be cut drastically," an ITN insider said.

"Something needs to be done there," he added. "Kirsty Young seems set to move to ITV and ratings have hit rock bottom since Channel 5 News has been scheduled against the BBC's six o'clock bulletin."

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