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Head to head

Peter Horrocks Peter Horrocks | 09:50 UK time, Monday, 14 January 2008

Good luck to ITN on the revival of News at Ten. The return of the famous bongs is a stimulating, if scary one, for the BBC. But it's scary in a good way. Since ITN gave up the News at Ten slot the BBC has consistently outperformed the late evening news on ITN. I don't think it's good for us, or the viewer, to be that dominant - strong competition is good for everyone. Putting the two bulletins head to head will keep all of us on our toes, which is good for both the BBC and ITN, and for audiences.

Sir Trevor McDonald and Julie EtchinghamOne of the things that we'll be watching out for is the extent to which this new choice changes viewers' behaviour. We know that some viewers have a preference for one brand over another, and will choose their preferred broadcaster no matter what the schedule. But equally, we know that the schedule determines the choice for a large number of people. Since News at Ten finished, we have seen that quite a significant number of ITV viewers switch over at 2200 to get their news from the BBC. We'll be keen to see if they continue to do that following the return of News at Ten.

It's interesting that ITV have made the decision to bring back News at Ten for commercial reasons - not because they've been ordered to by the regulator Ofcom. It proves that, despite what some have argued in the past, it's not necessarily the case that news will wither and die in a commercial broadcasting environment.

Of course, News at Ten is coming back into a broadcasting climate that's much changed from the one it left behind. I've talked before on this blog about our efforts to make BBC News a truly multi-platform operation, and we see the benefit of that on a daily basis - including on our coverage of recent big stories, such as the death of Benazir Bhutto, the violence in Kenya, and a range of domestic items. It's a balancing act, but we're committed to making sure that the key qualities of BBC News - for example, specialist understanding and analysis - are particularly focused on the Ten O'Clock News. People are now getting news from a range of sources throughout the day, so it's more important than ever that our key news service, at the end of each day, provides them with depth, and a range of understanding, that complements the information that they've picked up elsewhere.

Will there be a difference between the two bulletins? I'm sure we'll compete head to head on the main stories of the day. And there there will be a tussle over exclusive stories. But an inkling of potential differences might be found in a remark by an ITN senior executive, Deborah Turness. She said News at Ten's "And finally…" item should have this effect, "'We want people go to bed with a smile on their face or a tear in their eye". I'd prefer to say that the BBC's News is all made to make you think.


  • 1.
  • At 10:37 AM on 14 Jan 2008,
  • DaveH wrote:

"It's interesting that ITV have made the decision to bring back News at Ten for commercial reasons - not because they've been ordered to by the regulator Ofcom. It proves that, despite what some have argued in the past, it's not necessarily the case that news will wither and die in a commercial broadcasting environment."

Well, I hope you stick with that and leaving viewers witha few thoughts, extended into Newsnight if they wish. Let us hope that BBCF ten does not descend into the celeb-led trash of ITN, which ahs already infected the BBC Six and that silly 8pm "news for goldfish".

  • 2.
  • At 10:37 AM on 14 Jan 2008,
  • davidc wrote:

and for a REAL news programme on tv there only channel 4 at 7 pm.

on radio, radio 4 is not bad but beginning to show signs of slipping into 'lowest common denominator' so that only leaves bbc world service.

  • 3.
  • At 10:46 AM on 14 Jan 2008,
  • Martin Dale wrote:

I'm sure most people have a preference of one brand over another but hopefully ITN, having returned the News at Ten for commercial reasons won't tend towards the more commercial/banal stories that advertisers don't find offensive.
The BBC's unique position and key qualities of "specialist understanding and analysis" should hopefully act as a target for ITN to aspire to. It would be a shame for the UK TV news output degrade to the level seen in other countries.
An interesting (but quite long) article that describes some of the "commercial" decisions made at NBC over the years is here:
It's good to see the BBC embracing and utilising the rapidly emerging and changind technologies (even if iPlayer isn't yet available on Linux/Mac ;o)

  • 4.
  • At 10:53 AM on 14 Jan 2008,
  • Martin wrote:

"I'd prefer to say that the BBC's News is all made to make you think"

But the sad fact is that increasing numbers of people - as evidenced by the posters on past blog entries - simply go away thinking what a waste the BBC's resources are when used to make such lowbrow news.

I know you're never going to publicly admit it but internally you must be aware that pretty young presenters who are equally at home presenting the Royal Variety Performance as they are wandering around the news studio lack the gravitas of Moira Stuart, Angela Rippon, Peter Sissons and John Simpson.

You equally must be aware that the quality of news reporting is so much lower,

Maybe, as we both know you won't give ground on these points, you could just explain why you spend more time per bulletin on a roundup of the sport than the day's events in Parliament?

Or why the US elections have more coverage than this nation's PM speaking to the media did last week?

I'm a staunch believer in the BBC, I think BC Drama (for example) often ventures into territory that the commercial sector won't and to great success.

BBC News however is rapidly falling into the realm of 'Homes Under the Hammer' - cheap, common denominator output.

  • 5.
  • At 11:00 AM on 14 Jan 2008,
  • Sue M wrote:

I for one will be staying with BBC - I can't stand the way ITN have background music and flashing lights throughout their news programme. The news isn't there to entertain us, it's there to inform us.

  • 6.
  • At 11:02 AM on 14 Jan 2008,
  • JW wrote:

I thought the point of the license fee was to spare the BBC any thought of chasing ratings and trendy demographics - why bother watching what ITV get upto?

ITV news is shamefully tabloid. Please don't let the BBC News go down the same route in an attempt to lure viewers over from the other channel.

  • 7.
  • At 11:04 AM on 14 Jan 2008,
  • Liam O'Brien wrote:

I fear that BBC will lose much of its acquired 10 o'clock audience back to ITN when ITN starts airing its 10 o'clock bulletin.

Speaking as someone who watches a lot of news from a range of providers, I feel that ITN has more of a 'man-in-the-street' feel to it, more UK-centric, less internationalist, more Daily Mail than Guardian, more likely to be non-PC than PC.

Mind you, the Beeb has Nick Robinson so I may be wrong.

  • 8.
  • At 11:07 AM on 14 Jan 2008,
  • Martin Richards wrote:

Let's just hope the BBC and ITV try to win viewers by making their news as accurate and intelligent as possible, and not by dumbing down to meet the lowest common denominator.

  • 9.
  • At 11:13 AM on 14 Jan 2008,
  • George wrote:

Back in its glory days News At Ten used to whip the BBCs staid 9 o'clock News. It wasnt because ITN had more resources. It was because they were more fleet of foot, resourceful & enterprising. Some people think that because the BBC have more money it is guaranteed to produce a better programme. Complacency & the BBC's tendency to pompous preaching, whether it be on global warming or on immigration could well be its achilles heel.

  • 10.
  • At 11:22 AM on 14 Jan 2008,
  • John Kirby wrote:

I must say, in my house, it is a bad day for the BBC, which I love and value, by the way.

I use to watch News at Ten, then turnover for Newsnight, when ITV moved the programme to 10.30, I stopped watching it, In the old days you could watch the Nine O'Clock News, News at ten and then Newsnight, this would give balance, and meant you retained an in-depth knowledge.

Lately I have been watching the BBC News followed by Newsnight, but for balance and different viewpoints, I will be watching ITV followed by Newsnight, foe a while at least

  • 11.
  • At 11:28 AM on 14 Jan 2008,
  • Kelvin Fagan wrote:

I will be sticking with the BBC news, I really don't like the way Trevor McDonald delivers the news, he seems to read it as if the viewers are a bit slow on the uptake. The only positive change I can see is the newsreaders will once more be sat behind a desk instead of walking around a studio.

  • 12.
  • At 12:11 PM on 14 Jan 2008,
  • Alex wrote:

Why should you care in the slightest about ITN and their tabloid influenced style. Why are BBC and ITV constantly trying to compete for the same audience? I rarely watch BBC national news now and instead watch Channel 4 at 19:00 (except for my regional news for Bristol, Points West. More viewers would watch BBC news, at least the viewers worth having, if you concentrated less on celebrity and entertainment stories and more on important issues such as politics and the Middle East. You should take note of Channel 4's news and especially Jon Snow. The style and format is far superior to anything BBC or ITV have to offer on their main bulletins.

  • 13.
  • At 01:21 PM on 14 Jan 2008,
  • Graham Page wrote:

This is further bad news for those of us who would like a serious news service in the late evening. I have no doubt that the effect of News at Ten will merely be to drag the BBC's news further down market in a continuing attempt to gain viewers with attention spans of a few seconds. No doubt the celebrity culture of newsreaders will be further advanced with even more arm-waving and editorialising. I would really like to know if Fiona Armstrong (who is an excellent newsreader) has been told to behave as she now does or if it's her own idea.

  • 14.
  • At 01:56 PM on 14 Jan 2008,
  • Tommy Hill wrote:

The News at Ten has a strong brand - far stronger than that of the BBC's 10 O'Clock News. Therefore, the Beeb may find it's audience shrink. But if both are providing high-quality news, that shouldn't matter. The only thing in the BBC's favour as far as I can tell is the rest of it's platforms: the BBC's website beats ITVs hands down. Remember the rest of your platforms - but don't do a Breakfast and end up shamelessly plugging them.

  • 15.
  • At 02:15 PM on 14 Jan 2008,
  • Michael Douglas wrote:

Unfortunately both BBC1 and ITV have long adopted a trivial, tabloid, jokey and chatty style for their late evening news bulletins. It starts with their presenters - yes, I include Huw Edwards and Trevor McDonald - who have as much gravitas as a failed soufflé. The reporters are fine when they are left alone and not subjected to the pre-scripted inanities of the presenters.

Such a style is not even appropriate for 6 pm or midday, but the main BBC and ITV news bulletins used to have some authority. The only place to get that authority now - and has been for a decade or more - is Channel 4 and Newsnight. News bulletins do not need gimmicks such the heavily-trailed reminder that the new News at Ten will of course have the "And finally.." item.

My broadcast sources of news - in order of importance to me for a serious, in-depth and intelligent attitude to the news of the day - will remain Channel 4 and Newsnight (equal 1st), followed by Radio 4 and Radio 5, with the 10 pm bulletins nowhere and the 6pm and midday puffs even further behind.

  • 16.
  • At 02:22 PM on 14 Jan 2008,
  • James wrote:

I find it both amusing and depressing looking at the euphemisms many posters concoct to disguise their essential snobbery.

Many plead with the BBC not to go "downmarket". Others accuse the News at Ten of being "shamelessly tabloid" - as if the reading of a tabloid should . Others hope the BBC will not be tempted to change their approach to get more viewers.

This disdain for the common man and his tastes in television news betray the snobbery at the heart of the Liberal Left. All the more offensive, given that group's prediliction for professing "solidarity" with the working class.

Personally, I too love highbrow news. I can't get enough of it. But, the BBC and its multi-billion pound annual budget, was not created to produce programmes that only delight me and a narrow slice of "bien pensant" metropolitan opinion. It was created to serve the needs and taste of the whole country.

I too think the current success of the BBC News at Ten is due to its scheduling rather than its quality. It suffers from the same systemic weaknes as all other BBC news and current affairs output. The same weaknesses that occur in any monoculture in the natural world.

The move by ITV will, I hope, cause the BBC to improve. Competition always has that effect. I also look forward to the BBC feeling more keenly the need to meet the needs of all license-payers, not just the ones living in the leafier parts of North and West London.

The return of the ITN (sorry, ITV) News At Ten will be like the return of the Wispa Bar... both seemed fantastic in the 1980s, but now they are both a bit anachronistic and don't taste that good.

  • 18.
  • At 02:29 PM on 14 Jan 2008,
  • Chie wrote:

I agree with Martin. The only good thing about BBC News is the theme tune!

  • 19.
  • At 04:16 PM on 14 Jan 2008,
  • Arthur Simmonds wrote:

For a decent serious round-up of the day for a UK audience got to Radio 4 1800 and midnight.

  • 20.
  • At 04:48 PM on 14 Jan 2008,
  • clive green wrote:

Interesting that ITN will only be "competing" against the 10 O'Clock News 4 nights week. How long before ITV kow tow to their paymasters - their advertisers - and start playing with it to allow films, drama and/or football to "rule"?
Sir Trevor is deemed to be the best ITV has but I am sorry his delivery leaves a lot to be desired. Not that I like Huw Edwards either. But the quality of the BBC's correspondent network and their indepth knowledge is far superior to anything ITV/ITN can offer. Good luck ITV but given time think you will be the long-term eventual loser.

The 10o'clock evening slot is a crucial evening news eye-opener. Both broadcasters want to capture maximum audience approval. While the commercial perspective governs and keeps ITV afloat, the BBC is supported by government funds. That determines the whole strategy of the two broadcasters. While the BBC is able to project more balance, ITV has to keep a wary eye on the advertising revenue it is able to generate through audience response. Of course both broadcasters are committed to excellence but the road is full of pit-falls competing for the audience who are looking for factual, critical, lively presentations not a catalogue of facts alone. The BBC has still the edge.

  • 22.
  • At 07:13 PM on 14 Jan 2008,
  • David wrote:

I'll definitely be sticking with the BBC this, and every weekday evening as it has better presentation, better correspondents and is more intellectual.

However, I do object to the way that the BBC are trying to steal ITV's thunder. Even 5Live was running trailers this afternoon for tonight's programme and it was plugged at the end of the 6 o'clock news as well. It's a good thing I'm not cynical as I would also suspect that they deliberately send John Simpson to Zimbabwe just to win viewers from ITV.

  • 23.
  • At 09:11 PM on 14 Jan 2008,
  • Andrew Webb wrote:

BBC 10 O'Clock News wont be able to stand up to the New News at 10.
BBC is far too serious and its 10 O'Clock reports are just from News 24.
News at 10 with its updated Studio, titles and tune will put the BBC in the shade.

  • 24.
  • At 09:48 PM on 14 Jan 2008,
  • Mick wrote:

On Channel Four News tonight, Mr Horrocks said that the BBC isn't interested in audience figures. If that's the case then why has the BBC's 10 O'Clock News been promoted by BBC news bulletins all day?

  • 25.
  • At 08:47 AM on 15 Jan 2008,
  • Martin wrote:

Well Peter

Based on last night's showings I'm off to News at Ten. I watched the first 10-15 minutes which had a long, detailed report on the Diana inquest followed by a good piece filed by Penny Marshall and a very good piece on the Northern Rock saga.

I switched over to the BBC to find Nick Robinson standing outside Downing Street with a report based on IF: if the the enquiry into Peter Hain says he did something wrong, if there's any personal blame, he'd surely had to resign.

Nick's a great political editor and winning him from ITV was a real coup but this constant speculation based froth you guys seem to insist on is driving away people who want hard news.

The real tragedy is this - people who find news (proper, authorutive news) boring won't tune into the Six or Ten no matter how many frustrated glamour models you hire to read the reports whilst wandering around the studio.

Being able to see Kate Silverton's legs isn't going to connect anyone with the day's events and isn't going to add to the nation's knowledge.

The question is: are you going to start acting like the news division of a £3bn a year publicly funded international giant and produce high quality news which educates and informs the public regardless of the ratings or are you going to continue to emulate cash starved Five news?

  • 26.
  • At 10:53 AM on 15 Jan 2008,
  • Alan wrote:

It was amusing to see how BBC News tried to steal ITV's thunder with multiple previews of the Ten O'Clock News throughout yesterday:

  • At the end of the One O'Clock News.
  • At the end of the Six O'Clock News.
  • At 9 PM with Huw 'Gravitas' Edwards perched on the side of his desk.
  • At 2 minutes to 10 - "coming up in the Ten O'Clock News...".

Please BBC, you don't need to stoop to this level; it really looks ridiculous.

Despite all your plugs, I watched ITV just out of curiosity.

  • 27.
  • At 10:57 AM on 15 Jan 2008,
  • Daniel Barron wrote:

As a state television channel with no advertisements save on the one channel, I do fail to see just why the BBC needs to be concerned about ratings.

The BBC should be focusing on quality British programming and becoming something we can be proud of - not falling into the ratings war that plagues all the other channels.

  • 28.
  • At 12:03 PM on 15 Jan 2008,
  • Unreliable wrote:

Surely news should be something that is free from the perils of channel competition, and available to everyone at a time that does not clash?

  • 29.
  • At 12:04 PM on 15 Jan 2008,
  • Michael Riordan wrote:

James' views (no. 16 above) are rather strange. You seem to be coming from the position that we are all being snobbish by wanting news that does not appeal to the lowest common denominator.

I don't believe that the "working man" or whatever snobbish name you wish to call him is in any way the lowest common denominator. If given the right sort of news - clear, detailed, intelligent, explanatory, interesting, and relatively un-biased analysis - everyone in our society can become as clued up as anyone else. But if the only news people get is a combination of the LCD garbage in the Sun/Mirror and celebrityvision, then those people who do not have the time/inclination to seek out multiple news sources will get a less clear, intelligent, interesting and relatively-unbiased take on the news than those of us that do - or to put it another way, those of us who need to keep on the ball because the quality of our lives or jobs depend on it.

Changing the subject, with 9000 (that's what I was told, happy to be corrected) newsgathering staff around the world, why can't you come up with a better lead story than the Diana inquest two days on the trot.

I've completely given up on BBC TV news: you are handed your head on a nightly basis by Channel 4 which produces a rich, serious news programme with (I assume) a fraction of your resources. Hard news, lots of it, some good investigative journalism and - especially on the radio and News 24 - fewer journalists to talking to other journalists about what other journalists have written in the newspapers.

  • 31.
  • At 02:44 PM on 15 Jan 2008,
  • Ben wrote:

I no longer watch BBC or ITV terestial news broadcasts at 6 or 10, I much prefer to catch up with the headlines on BBC News 24 and then get my depth and analysis from channel 4 at seven.

I agree that the BBC news output is more analytical and thought provoking than ITV, but that isn't really too hard. BBC news is difficult to watch because it has become dumbed down. You say that the BBC has an advantage with it's 'special understanding and analysis'... well utilise it then! The BBC appears to have a depth of quality journalists just sitting there giving the basic facts without the depth and analysis that channel 4 gives to almost every news item every day!

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