High Viewing Figures Essential To Justify Regional News Subsidy Says ITN Chief
John Hardie, CEO of ITN, has called on the industry to put viewers first when deciding how to secure the future of independent regional television news across the UK and warned that audiences will desert substandard programmes.
Speaking to an audience of television executives at the biennial RTS Convention in Cambridge, he set out how ITN could form alliances with regional newspapers, websites, radio stations and local communities to "give the BBC a run for its money and deliver real plurality."
Commercial pressures and declining adverting revenues mean that ITV will not be able to afford to meet the £55m-a-year cost of producing regional news programmes in the near future, meaning new ways of producing and funding the programmes are under consideration.
"What kind of alternative would it be to the BBC to have programmes that viewers don't watch in large numbers every single day? None."
Mr Hardie confirmed that ITN, which already produces ITV News, Channel 4 News and the ITV London news, would bid to provide regional news services when the opportunity arose.
"There must be a firm commitment to deliver services which are a true alternative to the BBC. Services measured by audience performance; by the highest quality of journalism and production, with the same editorial impartiality as national news;and a high common denominator everywhere so no region is left behind."
He added that this would be delivered through "a new era of partnerships and local connectivity."
Mr Hardie made five commitments in the event that ITN won the contract to supply the service:
1. ITN would be held accountable for audience performance;
2. Unrivalled journalistic quality and a renewed ambition - providing programming that will be bolder, brighter, more watchable and more engaging than ever before;
3. A seamless link to ITN's national and international network of correspondents, bringing the global connection to regional news;
4. Guaranteed partnerships with an unprecedented alliance of local newspapers, radio, internet and others such as community groups to harness and support the resources of commercial journalism across all platforms;
5. A distribution revolution in which television is just one aspect of the service provided, facilitating content distribution across hundreds of local websites and supporting new service innovations to reach the consumer when and where they want it.
In order to deliver these commitments, Mr Hardie said two things were necessary: adequate funding and a master contractor for each nation.
'The process must allow for single contractors for each nation. We should fear the consequences of a patchwork quilt of small inexperienced consortia. A patchwork system will most likely be out funded, out produced and massively outperformed by the BBC. Some regions may even be left behind, as larger richer conurbations attract more capable players with vested interests."
Mr Hardie said efficiency was not the same as the cheapest option and gave this warning: "We caution against those who are keen to win, but inexperienced, who may promise a low-cost model expecting it still to deliver audiences. The audience will not be forgiving of a substandard programme - and once lost, they may be impossible to recover."