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Note: ITV (or iTV) can also mean interactive television. This article is about the British television network.

Independent Television (ITV) is the name given to the original network of British commercial television broadcasters, set up to provide competition to the BBC.

Table of contents
1 History
2 Programmes
3 ITV Companies: Past and Present
4 See Also
5 External Links


Note: This article (mostly) discusses the history of the ITV network as a whole; for information on individual ITV companies please see their respective articles - links to which are available in the "" section.

The Early Years: 1954-1968

After much debate both in the British Parliament and the British Press, the Television Act became law in 1954. This Act paved the way for the establishment of a commercial television service in the UK, creating the Independent Television Authority (ITA), the body that would regulate the new television service. The ITA's responsibility was to regulate the new service, and to ensure that the new service did not follow the same path taken by American television networks (which were perceived as "vulgar" by some people). For example, one thing that was insisted upon was that commercials should be clearly distinguishable from programmes.

The "Independent Television" service, so-called because of its independence from the BBC (which previously had held a monopoly on broadcasting in the UK), was to be made up of regions, with each region run by different companies. The three largest regions (London, the Midlands and the North of England) were subdivided into weekday and weekend services, with a different company running each. Space for commercials, shown during and between programmes has always been sold on a region-by-region basis by each ITV company, and not on a nationwide basis throughout the United Kingdom. The reason for this seemingly overcomplicated arrangement was to prevent any individual company obtaining a monopoly on commercial broadcasting.

The ITV companies were contracted by the ITA to provide a local television service for their particular region, producing programmes such as a local news bulletin or documentary. However, national news bulletins, covering events in the UK and the rest of the world, were (and still are) produced by Independent Television News (ITN). Until recently, ITN was owned by all the ITV companies.

Each company also produced programming that would be shown across the network (although the decision as to when or if to show each programme remained with the individual regions), with the four largest regions (known as the "Big Four" - London Weekday, London Weekend, the North of England and the Midlands) producing the bulk of this output. Each regional service had its own on-screen identity to distinguish it from other regions, since there was often a sizeable overlap between regions.

The first ITV contractor to begin broadcasting was the London Weekday contractor Associated-Rediffusion, on 22 September 1955. The London Weekend contractor, ATV London (initially known as "ABC" until the Midlands contractor, Associated British Corporation, complained), began two days later. The other regions all launched later:

The ITV regions initially broadcast on 405-line VHF. During the 1960s some commercial companies proposed the introduction of colour on the 405-line system, but the BBC insisted that colour should wait until the higher-definition 625-line UHF system became standard. ITV eventually introduced PAL colour on this system in 1969, simultaneous with BBC ONE and two years after BBC TWO. This did not, however, spread immediately across the UK; some regions, like the Channel Islands, had to wait a few more years before colour was available.

In general, usually a few years after their launch, the regional companies made a profit; the largest regions especially so. However, this was not the case with Wales (West and North) Television (WWN). Problems with the construction of their transmitter network, as well as strict provisions in their contract to produce a large amount of Welsh-language programming, meant that WWN lost a lot of money. Although WWN did receive some help from other ITV contractors, it was not enough; the company declared itself bankrupt in 1964 - the only ITV company to have ever done so. The Teledu Cymru name and studio facilities were taken over by TWW, who continued to broadcast in North and West Wales using that name until 1968.

Reorganisation: 1968-1992

Contracts to run an ITV region were, and still are, not permanent. Contracts were renewed by the ITA every few years, but it was not guaranteed that the incumbent contractor would win an extension; a new company could take over instead. A licence review had taken place in September 1963, but no company lost its position as the local ITV contractor for their region and all licences were extended for another three years (starting July 1964).

However, unlike 1963, the 1967 review was to create dramatic changes to the structure of the ITV network. The ITA made the following changes to the ITV region map:

There were also changes to the companies running each region:

During this period, the ITA was given the responsibility of regulating the new commercial "Independent Local Radio" (ILR) stations under the Sound Broadcasting Act 1972. As a result, the name of the ITA was changed to the Independent Broadcasting Authority, or IBA.

The teletext service ORACLE was fully launched in 1974 - one of the first of its kind (along with the BBC's CEEFAX).

At the beginning of the 1980s the IBA reviewed the ITV broadcasting licences. As a result, the following changes occurred:

Consolidation: 1993-present

The Broadcasting Act 1990 paved the way for the deregulation of the British Broadcasting industry, which was to have many consequences for the ITV system. The following changes were made by the Act:

The results of the Channel 3 franchise auction were:

All other existing ITV companies retained their regional franchises.

The relaxation in the franchise ownership rules as a result of the 1990 Act meant that mergers between ITV companies were now possible (even more after the Broadcasting Act 1996, which relaxed the rules even further). This was quickly taken advantage of by the larger companies - Carlton Communications, Granada and (to a lesser extent) Scottish Television:

Carlton and Granada attempted to merge twice in the 1990s, creating a new company that would own all the Channel 3 licences in England and Wales (and the English-Scottish Border). In October 2003, the Government announced that it would no longer prevent a merger from taking place, subject to safeguards being set in place to ensure the continued independence of the Scottish Media Group, UTV and Channel Television. The merger of the two companies finally took place at the end of January 2004, and the new company - named ITV plc - started trading on 2 February, with former Carlton shareholders owning 38% and Granada shareholders owning 68% of the new shares in the company.

The choice of the name "ITV plc" was controversial, since it could imply that the company runs the entire network, and an agreement had to be reached with SMG, UTV and Channel before the name could be used. Granada and Carlton have also been criticised in the past for using the ITV name to brand their failed pay television service, ITV Digital, and the ITV Sports Channel.

Although still the major force in UK commercial television, ITV's share of the TV viewing audience has been falling for years, particularly since the start of competition by satellite television and cable, and more recently Digital Terrestrial Television. As a result, the ITV network has tried to adapt, by launching two additional channels broadcast on the main digital television platforms. ITV2 launched in 1998, and carries a mix of imported and homemade programming, as well as extended coverage of ITV's reality television programmes. The ITV News Channel shows ITV News bulletins 24-hours a day (produced by ITN).

In recognition of this fact, the ITV network (in the Carlton and Granada owned areas) was rebranded ITV1 in 2001. From October 2002 regional branding in these regions (and Channel Television) was dropped altogether, except before regional programming, with all ITV plc regions now being controlled from a reduced number of transmission centres. This has lead to a number of job cuts and scaled-back operations at regional centres, with some studios being sold off altogether. In view of the national audiences they serve, Scottish, Grampian and UTV have all decided not to adopt the ITV1 brand, and still use their own individual identities at all times.


There are some programmes produced by ITV companies (past and present) that are well-known, usually in the UK, but often worldwide. These include:

It is believed by some people that ITV has started "dumbing-down" in recent years. They argue that serious documentary and current affairs programmes are seldom to be seen in prime time, whilst the amount of reality television programmes and soap operas has increased (although this may be something attributed British television in general, since the BBC has been accused of the same things). In its defence, ITV does continue to show its major strengths in the fields of sports coverage and drama productions, and the production of "high-brow" programming such as "The South Bank Show" has continued.

ITV Companies: Past and Present

Former ITV Contractors

Current ITV Franchise holders

See Also

External Links

The ITV Companies

Unofficial Sites about ITV

British television | Channels | ITV

Scotland: Grampian, Scottish Television, Border | North and Northwest: ABC, Granada
Northeast: Tyne Tees | Yorkshire: Yorkshire | Northern Ireland: UTV | Wales: TWW, WWN, HTV
Midlands: ATV, Central | East: Anglia | London: Rediffusion, ATV, Thames, LWT, Carlton
South: Southern, TVS, Meridian | Southwest: Westward, TSW, Westcountry | Channel Islands: CTV

Breakfast: TV-am, GMTV | Teletext: ORACLE, Teletext Ltd | News: ITN

ITA | IBA | ITC | Ofcom
ITV plc | ITV1 | ITV2 | ITV News Channel | ITV Digital