Nicholas Jones has an opinion piece about ITV in the Independent today. In it he explains how the TV station is in dire straits, steadily losing audience share year on year and doing worst in the the key demographic area of 16-34 year olds (incidentally I just exited this demographic a few months ago). The competition from other media such as the Internet and computer games etc. has also taken it toll.
The average producer will shout me down, but many TV production budgets can be slashed using competitive bids instead of the set tariffs each type of production is deemed to cost. Digital technology now offers tremendous potential, both to reduce the huge cost of editing – and to shoot a new kind of low-cost drama and comedy using the best lessons of the US independent film-making sector.In this way, ITV can start to craft a more edgy, fresher kind of programming that will draw young viewers in the next decade, such as my daughter.
- Restore regional identity. I am old enough to remember when each ITV station had its own unique identity. I grew up in the Granada region but I was well aware of the other stations such as Thames, LWT, Yorkshire, Southern/TVS etc. before they all became merged into the corporate and bland ITV1. The stations used to be federated with lots of network programmes but also a number of regional variations and local programmes that we just don't get from them any more as well as regional continuity which had a more personal feel. I can still remember the personal connection I felt with some of the Granada (in vision) announcers such as Colin Weston, Charles Foster and Jim Pope (also the "voice" of University Challenge for many years). I know that going down this route would cost ITV money (one of the main reasons why they consolidated in the first place) but the technology is now much more geared to allowing a regional identity without it needing to cost an absolute fortune. It would also give them something that they are sorely lacking at the moment - a USP.
- Revive World In Action or create a modern equivalent. World In Action was a groundbreaking documentary and current affairs series that aired on ITV from 1963 to 1998. It won all sorts of awards for its investigative journalism and some of our best known journalists cut their teeth on the programme. Compare that standard of journalism with the dross ITV currently pumps out in this area such as the risible tabloid fodder Tonight. If ITV could have a flagship current affairs programme again it could be part of them rebuilding their reputation as a heavyweight broadcaster. Lord knows, with the mess the BBC have made with Panorama recently (presumably following Tonight down the lowest common denominator route) the field is wide open.
- More political programming. I know people will think I am just saying this because I am interested in politics but it is a disgrace that there are no longer any serious political programmes on ITV. They used to have a slot on Sunday which was variously filled over the years by Weekend World, Jonathan Dimbleby's eponymous political interview show, The Sunday Edition etc. Now there is no regular political programme. Again addressing this would add to ITV's reputation.
- Sort out the "Sitcom" problem. When was the last time ITV commissioned a really good situation comedy show? Why is it always the BBC and Channel 4 who have the good shows? If I was Archie Norman, the incoming ITV chairman, this is one area I would try to tackle straight away. It must surely be down to how they commission their shows. What are ITV doing wrong that shows like Peep Show, Gavin and Stacey, The Inbetweeners and The IT Crowd (to name but a few recent examples) wind up on their opponents stations? The only recent ITV sitcom I can think of that is even vaguely OK is No Heroics but the chances are that you haven't heard of it because it went out on ITV2 and when it was repeated on ITV1 was on after 11:00pm with as far as I can tell virtually no advertising. It was quite risque but the BBC and Channel 4 manage to put out similarly "boundary pushing" shows in a way that builds an audience. I am not saying this is an easy problem to solve but ITV could try hiring some of the talent in this area from the other channels and seriously try to attack the problem. I would suggest completely ripping up whatever procedures they currently have for sitcom commissioning and starting again from scratch, because whatever they are doing at the moment aint working.