ITV, or Independent Television, is the British commercial television service which started broadcasting in 1955 as a rival to The BBC. The broadcaster's main channel (now known as ITV 1, but see below) broadcasts on Channel 3 across the England, Wales and the Isle of Man, since the late 1990s ITV have launched further national channels on the British digital television platforms. Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Channel Islands still have independent channels, but these show mostly the same programmes as ITV 1.
ITV historically consisted of 15 regional TV companies which served "franchise areas", which began at various times from 1955 onwards before virtually the whole UK had its own station by the mid-1960s:
- London: Served by different stations during the week (Associated-Rediffusion/Rediffusion London from 1955-68, Thames from 1968-92, and Carlton from 1993) and on weekends (ATV London from 1955-68, London Weekend Television/LWT from 1968).
- Central England: Initially served by different stations during the week (ATV Midlands) and on weekends (ABC) from 1955-68, then ATV all week round from 1968-81, then Central (also all week round, basically a required change in name for licence renewal) from 1982.
- North of England: Initially served by different stations during the week (Granada) and on weekends (ABC) from 1956-68, then split to Granada all week round in the North West and Yorkshire Television all week round in, erm, Yorkshire, from 1968.
- Central Scotland: Scottish Television/STV (Central) from 1957. Now part of the independent STV.
- Wales and West of England: TWW (Television West and Wales) from 1958-68 and originally only South Wales until 1964, Harlech Television/HTV from 1968.
- South and South East England: Southern Television from 1958-81, Television South/TVS from 1982-92, and Meridian Broadcasting from 1993.
- North East England: Tyne Tees Television from 1959.
- East Anglia: Anglia Television from 1959.
- Northern Ireland: Ulster Television/UTV from 1959. Still operates under that name.
- South West England: Westward from 1961-81, Television South West/TSW from 1982-92, Westcountry from 1993.
- Cumbria, South Scotland, and the Isle of Man: Border Television from 1961.
- North Scotland: Grampian Television/STV (North) from 1961. Now part of STV.
- Channel Islands: Channel Television from 1962.
- North and West Wales: Wales West and North/Teledu Cymru from 1962-64, when the station went bust and its franchise area was merged with the rest of Wales and West of England.
In 1981, a separate nationwide franchise was set up for an early morning service called TV-am, which began on 1 February 1983. It was replaced in 1993 by GMTV (Good Morning Television). It, too, has recently been phased out, replaced with a new program, Daybreak.
The London weekday/weekend split is an historical relic from the days of tighter regulation. The feeling back then was that a single London franchise would be too powerful a force in the ITV Network, so its broadcasting hours were divided among two companies. This was also done in the Midlands and in the North of England, but eventually one broadcaster was elected to broadcast all week long in these parts of the country.
The ITV companies best known outside the UK were Granada, Thames Television, and LWT. ATV, although a major network provider, used a sister company, ITC Entertainment, to distribute shows internationally and eventually became Central Television.
For most of its existence, ITV was very regionalised; only the name of the local regional franchisee was regularly used on air until 1989. From 1989, dual branding of national (ITV) and local (Thames, Yorkshire etc.) identities was used. In 2002, following gradual deregulation which allowed the Granada and Carlton companies to buy out the other regional companies during The Nineties and eventually merge (in 2004), a unified brand of ITV1 was adopted in England and Wales. It still remains a very touchy subject today among some UK TV viewers.
In 1998 Granada and Carlton established the ill-fated ONdigital (later ITV Digital), a subscription-based digital terrestrial broadcast system. This went bust in 2002 because of technical problems and competition from satellite and cable, in what was seen by some industry critics as a re-run of British Satellite Broadcasting's defeat by Sky Television - the only thing that really survived was the knitted monkey used in the adverts. (To prevent digital terrestrial from becoming extinct a new consortium relaunched the system as Freeview, with compatible, though more robust, signals, and no subscriptions. A limited number of subscription channels, called Top-Up TV, were added later.)
Regional branding is very rarely seen on screen, apart from ITV1 Wales and the still independently-owned STV and UTV services. While Ofcom still obliges each region to have its own local news programmes (for the time being), regional programming on ITV1 has now become virtually non-existent.
ITV gets its news programmes from ITN (Independent Television News), who have provided news bulletins for the network since Day One and which was originally controlled by all of the ITV companies. The station's flagship news bulletin, News at Ten, was first broadcast in 1967 and has continued on and off since (also, nowadays most ITV news bulletins still use a variation on the original News at Ten theme tune). ITN also provides Channel 4 with its news programme, as well as celebrity/entertainment news coverage for Channel 4's flagship music channel, 4Music. They used to do the news for Channel Five, as well, until they lost the contract to Sky- although they do still do a short-form entertainment news show for one of their digital channels.
ITV has been having a lot of problems recently, due to the "credit crunch" hitting its income in a huge manner and general poor quality. Drama shows have been hit badly — Demons was poor, for a start. Wire in The Blood and its flagship prime-time show Primeval were cancelled, though the latter was brought back with help from The Other Side.
Many of ITV's prime-time flagships have received a lot of viewer attention but very little critical success, such as Pop Idol (and its successors The X Factor and American Idol) and Britains Got Talent. It has also found a (justified) reputation for celebrity-reality rubbish like Celebrity Wrestling and Celeb Air. Its biggest Long Runners are soaps Coronation Street and Emmerdale, and there are concerns that ITV is losing any new quality programming.
The children's department closed a couple of years back, its last production being a show involving two child-eating hyenas. Regional studio centres were shut down and sold off, leading to The Street (which it makes for The BBC) being cancelled despite winning Emmys.
For a brief period, STV went through a phase of dropping network programming (it opted out of showing The Bill and Midsomer Murders) in favour of showing its own productions and acquired content (such as Underbelly and South Park). It looked like withdrawing fully and form a rival setup, but counter lawsuits between ITV and STV have seen this fall by the wayside. The disputes have been settled.
It looked likely ITV could fail, with figures in the TV industry members speculating the company would call in the receivers and go bust. Since 2009, ITV has returned to making a profit.
Broadcasts on five main channels:
- ITV1: The main channel.
- ITV2: Mostly aimed at younger viewers. Airs the behind-the-scenes spinoffs of Cowell-based talent contests, as well as celebrity documentaries and, er, The Only Way Is Essex. Also does midweek repeats of ITV1 weekend programming.
- ITV3: Aimed at older viewers. Mostly broadcasts British crime dramas, like Agatha Christie's Poirot, A Touch of Frost and Midsomer Murders, as well as older comedies like On the Buses and Mr. Bean.
- ITV4: Something a 'miscellaneous' channel; the programming is mostly aimed at men. A lot of it's cop shows (real and fictional) and sports.
- CITV: Kids' channel. For a few hours on Saturdays and Sundays, its programming is broadcast on ITV1.
Defunct ITV channels include the ITV News Channel- operated by ITN- and the ITV Sport Channel, a failed venture into the early terrestial Pay-TV market, the collapse of which nearly bankrupted the British Basketball League, and left a lot of other niche British sports leagues in financial trouble.