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13 November 2014
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Cameras, lights, action - for how long?

Westcountry TV

The TV landscape is changing in the South West of England. February 2009 sees the beginning of a new era in public service broadcasting as ITV launches a new, slimmed down regional service. But what wil be the public's reaction?

The main changes to the ITV service in the South West will be:

> The main evening ITV bulletin will be broadcast from Bristol;

> Fifteen minutes will be dedicated to news in the old Westcountry patch;

> The other 15 minutes may cover stories from places farther afield such as Bristol or Gloucester.

Inside Out South West takes a look at what has led to the shake-up, and what the changes will mean to viewers in the region.

Early days

ITV's first regional broadcast in the South West took place in Plymouth in 1961 with the launch of Westward Television, headed by Peter Cadbury.

It made not only news, but award-winning documentaries such as 'Silent Valley', about the death of mining in the Tamar Valley, and 'The Loss of the SS Schiller' - a famous shipwreck off the Isles of Scilly.

Angela Rippon in 1975

Westcountry TV - launchpad for Rippon.

Over the last 50 years or so, ITV has helped launch the careers of household favourites such as Angela Rippon, Jan Leeming and Judi Spiers.

Gus Honeybun was born in the Westward era but went on to be adopted by TSW which took over the franchise in 1982.

When TSW lost the franchise, in 1993, Westcountry Television took over and brought advanced technology and innovative programming to broadcasting in the South West.

This included 'local opts' where the news programme split so viewers were able to see news from their part of the region, transmitted from satellite studios in Penzance, Truro, Taunton, Barnstaple, Exeter and Torbay.

It was a service which was extremely popular with viewers in the region.

Casualty of the cuts

But that local set up is no more.

The South West's award winning programme has become a casualty of ITV's financial problems.

Unlike the BBC with its licence fee, ITV has to make a profit and pay for its programmes through advertising.

Graham Smith

Graham Smith - fears for the future.

But its income from ads is down - because of growing competition from the internet and other TV channels.

The recession has made things worse.

So the body which regulates broadcasters, OFCOM, has allowed ITV to make these cuts in the regions.

As Graham Smith, a former Current Affairs Editor at Westcountry says:

"First of all it was children's programmes, religious programmes, the more 'featurey' programmes, and now they have taken an axe to those parts of the schedule that were once considered its absolute foundation - news and current affairs."

Cameras on the roads

Jane McCloskey, Regional Director for ITV West and Westcountry says that despite the changes made to their news and current affairs output their newsgathering effort remains really strong and they are keeping their presence in Truro, Barnstaple, Taunton, Exeter and Plymouth.

Jane McCloskey

Jane McCloskey - strong local angle.

She says the emphasis is not so much about 'bricks and mortar' but keeping a high level of cameras on the road.

However, Jane McCloskey does acknowledge that unless they can find additional funding ITV will only be able to afford to make regional news until the end of 2010.

She says that ITV is working hard to create a sustainable model.

They have already made radical changes which entail: "completely redrawing the map, particularly in the South West, to create a new service that is cost effective but still effective on air and still delivers the right kind of product to viewers."

Democracy diminished?

One of the major problems for ITV is that the advertising model is changing so that even companies that were their key advertisers, like Woolworths, are no longer in business.

Adrian Prior-Sankey a member of ITV Westcountry's Viewers Advisory Panel says that if there was not another public service broadcaster in the region, BBC journalists would miss the jostle with 'the opposition' for top place in the ratings for their coverage of a story.

West Country Tonight

West Country Tonight - new launch.

And according to the media commentator Steve Hewlett, when the BBC and ITV are covering news: "both strive to get to the essential truth of a story but you will get different takes on it."

He also says: "'if you haven't got that plurality of view in regional broadcasting, then democracy is diminished."

Adrian Prior-Sankey believes ITV is running out of time to save what's left of its regional news:

"I really am very sad in expecting that ITV will not be a regional broadcaster in a couple of years time."

And Jane McCloskey feels that if ITV is unable to find a different funding model: "none of us can say what that might mean in terms of the way we make news and how it's delivered."

last updated: 19/02/2009 at 10:30
created: 18/02/2009

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