Torin Douglas does a fantastic (and only slightly gloat-esque) look at ITV"s 50th birthday at BBC News. One of the very well made points is that ITV’s audience has slipped in parallel to a percieved fall in the quality of its output:
The days seem long gone when, in return for "a licence to print money", it was made to produce an ambitious range of drama, documentaries, current affairs, religion, arts and children’s programmes.
Examples abounded in ITV’s 50 Greatest Shows voted for by viewers. It included such cerebral fare as The World At War,
Hillsborough, The Naked Civil Servant, Brideshead Revisited, World In
Action, Death on the Rock and The Jewel in The Crown.
The standard reaction to this is that it’s mostly down to either (a) the BBC getting an unfair advantage in the shape of the license fee, or (b) the multi-channel world robbing ITV the most. "Lord" Birt – and if ever there was a less deserved lordship, I have yet to find it – puts this view in an interesting way:
"The main consequence of the explosive growth in the number of
television channels is that ITV – whose share has particularly tumbled
– is clinging onto the public service tradition by its fingertips. When analogue switch-off occurs, and when ITV is more
or less on a level playing field with a welter of commercial
competitors, it will no longer be, in any meaningful sense, a public
In other words, ITV is shafted because it can’t differentiate itself from the welter of low-rent, low-budget TV channels that exist on cable, satellite and Freeview.
But wait a minute. Look again at that list of superb programmes that viewers themselves pointed out: the likes of Brideshead Revisited, World In Action, Death on the Rock. Those are the differentiators. A channel like, say, Living TV has its qualities, but production values aren’t part of that (as people at the channel would probably happily admit). Instead, ITV has attempted to "give people what they want", which usually amounts to Celebrity Love Island, rather than using the (still substantial) budgets it has to make TV programmes that other commercial channels simply couldn’t match.
TV, even in the multi-channel world, is simple: Make good programmes, using imagination and intelligence, and you’ll get an audience. In the case of ITV, which still has big budgets compared to all its rivals, there’s no excuse for a market share that’s fallen so badly. All the talk of multi-channel futures, multi-media landscapes, and so on is just an excuse for a lack of ability to focus on making good television. It’s a failure of intelligence. It isn’t rocket science
Make good programmes, and the rest will follow.