A story of financial and creative mismanagement

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The Independent Online

The failure of ITV is, more than anything, creative, as is apparent to anyone who belongs to the dwindling band of viewers who watch its programmes.

If there was ever a time when the various ITV companies could have welded themselves into a powerful national force ready to take its place on the world stage, it has long passed. It is impossible to view the merger of Carlton and Granada without thinking of two helpless drunks propping themselves up. Of course, they will probably do better than either would individually, and in that sense the merger may turn out to be a success.

However, the digital future of British television seems to be one where ITV will be squeezed in a pincer movement between the BBC's more upmarket public-service offerings and Sky's entertainment-and-sport packages, with a revived Channel 5 and, just possibly, Channel 4 also taking some of ITV's natural market.

Nowhere is this likely to be more evident than in the case of Freeview, the free digital platform to be launched at the end of this month. This is where the growth in broadcasting will be over the next decade. Once, let us recall, it was called ITV Digital, but now it is, basically, a BBC-BSkyB joint venture.

Things need not have turned out this way. Apologists for ITV might argue that the insistence of successive governments on the protection of the smaller regional entities held back the development of a strong commercial channel. There is something in that, but the weaknesses of ITV go far beyond questions of industry structure, where, in any case, there has been rapid consolidation. It is about financial and creative mismanagement on a colossal scale – the sort of story that would work well as a TV documentary – culminating in the ruinously expensive sponsorship deal with the Football League that drove ITV Digital into liquidation and inflicted huge losses on Carlton and Granada.

The failure of ITV is, more than anything, creative, as is apparent to anyone who belongs to the dwindling band of viewers who watch its programmes. ITV unforgivably squandered ITN's brand and reputation, gave up on current affairs and nature programmes, and is now dangerously reliant on Coronation Street and a few one-off hits such as I'm a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here! for its survival. It is a pitifully narrow base on which to rebuild.

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