The other day I proposed that if viewers of Regional Television in northern Lancashire and South Cumbria who receive ITV Granada Regional Programming are unhappy about the scant amount of coverage of news- events north of the M62 Corridor on ITV Granada Reports that they could demand their area is transferred to ITV Border where they would get much more local coverage. There would be a move from a Television Region with a population in the transmission area of seven million to a neighbouring Television Region with a total population of just 1.5 million (with all South Cumbria and northern Lancashire included) who would be receiving the English version of ITV Border (in reality it would be Cumbria and northern Lancashire). Folk in South Cumbria and northern Lancashire have a closer affinity to the Lake District (which ITV Border already covers extremely well), than to Manchester and Liverpool (over an hour’s drive down the M6, M61 (or M58)), big cities that folk in the northern North West of England would not necessarily travel to by choice.
Viewers of the choices of North West Regional Television from both the BBC and ITV who live in Lancashire and South Cumbria do not get coverage of the entirety of North West England: Some 80% of coverage is Manchester, Liverpool, Warrington, Cheshire and a bit of north-west Derbyshire, the remaining 20% is Lancashire, the Isle of Man and South Cumbria but there is no news-coverage of northern Cumbria: This is neither conducive to effective all-round local news-coverage or Regional identity for those living in more northerly parts of North West England and on the Isle of Man because what is (in the main) covered are the major conurbations along the banks of the River Mersey rather than the geographical North West of England. So, if the BBC won’t make funds available for a new BBC North West Region covering Lancashire, Cumbria and the Isle of Man- or at least go as far as providing an opt-out for the north of the transmission area, perhaps ITV can take up the initiative with its own bespoke Television Region (one that already exists in the form of ITV Border): ITV Border already provides a Cumbrian news- service and a separate news- programme for southern Scotland and ITV Border could be made to embrace other northerly parts of North West England (i.e. South Cumbria and northern Lancashire) that are short- changed on BBC North West Tonight and ITV Granada Reports.
In the northern half of the North East of England, the large rural county of Northumberland is also short- changed by both BBC Look North (North East/ Cumbria transmission area) and also by ITV Tyne Tees: Towns like Berwick-upon-Tweed, Wooler and Cornhill-on-Tweed are over an hour’s drive from Newcastle-upon-Tyne (though it is just possible to get to Newcastle on the train from Berwick within an hour), yet there is a dearth of coverage of areas north of the River Tyne. Moreover, neither ITV Tyne Tees nor BBC Look North (North East/ Cumbria) will cover anything on the Scottish side of the Scottish Border despite strong cultural and historical links between North Northumberland and the Scottish Borders. Yet there is a solution to Northumberland’s lack of coverage- it’s called ITV Border.
Now Berwick-upon-Tweed used to receive the Scottish version of ITV Border- transmitted from the Selkirk transmitter in the Scottish Borders. However, in 2006, North Northumberland was transferred from ITV Border (Scottish version) to ITV Tyne Tees: Quite a number of local folk thought this might be a good thing at the time, the Scottish version of ITV Border covers a lot of the politics around the Scottish Parliament, as well as having news mainly about southern Scotland (much the Scottish Borders are local to North Northumberland, but Dumfries and Galloway certainly is not).
It would be interesting to see how many people who live in towns like Berwick-upon-Tweed and Wooler now think losing ITV Border in favour of ITV Tyne Tees marks an improvement in local news- coverage. Effectively North Northumberland was transferred from a transmission area with a population of around 500,000 (the number of viewers in ITV Border Scotland’s transmission area prior to the switch) to a transmission area with a population of three million (ITV Tyne Tees now covers all of North East England and the northern half of North Yorkshire, which has this population): Other things being equal this would reduce the amount of coverage of North Northumberland that North Northumberland’s viewers can receive by five sixths: It also means that folk in northern Northumberland get no coverage of news on the Scottish side of the Scottish Border- news that local folk might still consider as local.
The solution, as for northern parts of North West England, is for there to be a southwards extension of the ITV Border transmission area- this time with the transmission area receiving ITV Border (Scotland) being extended south across rural north and north-west Northumberland. ITV Border’s original raíson d’être was to cover northernmost parts of England together with southern Scotland because close communities (with strong links between them) straddle both sides of the Scottish Border. There was, for example, a recognition of the strong links between northern Northumberland and the Scottish Borders.
Now BBC Look North and ITV Tyne-Tees are unlikely to countenance providing overlap coverage to southern Scotland for political reasons: Their viewers in Tyneside and Teesside voted heavily for Britain to leave the European Union and these viewers of North East Regional programming who live south of Northumberland note that Scottish National Party MPs have been trying to stop Britain leaving the European Union whilst agitating for the break- up of the United Kingdom. Thus viewers of BBC Look North and ITV Tyne Tees who live in the towns and cities south-east of Northumberland are less predisposed towards the Scots than they have ever been; so Regional Television Programmers in the North East are not keen to cause controversy by including any Scottish Border’s news in Regional output!
However, the political and community outlook for folk living in rural northern Northumberland is a world away from what it is in (say) the City of Durham or Sunderland. People in Berwick-upon-Tweed have strong links across the Border, they have friends and family, places they like to go and visit which are all in southern Scotland. Moreover, rural North and West Northumberland need (and deserve) news output that is much more localised and not just about Tyneside and Teesside. The solution to this conundrum is for rural northern Northumberland to be included in the ITV Border transmission area: With Post-code Mapping, it should also be eminently possible to do.
The new ITV Border North (reflecting its extended remit) transmission area would cover all of Cumbria, the northern half of Lancashire, the Isle of Man, Dumfries and Galloway, southern Ayrshire, the Scottish Borders and rural North and West Northumberland. The main bulletins would ideally be 10 minutes across the whole transmission area with overlap coverage north to the Forth-Clyde Valley, east to Newcastle-upon-Tyne/ Gateshead and south to encompass South Lancashire and Manchester (the overlap coverage would encompass a third of this all ITV Border North programming, enough so that folk at the fringes of the transmission area get all- round news- coverage). This whole ITV Border North Regional coverage (with overlap) would include the first two main news-items then Sport/ Weather during the last five minutes of the Programme.
The new ITV Border Region would be a totally separate franchise divorced 100% from ITV Tyne Tees with all news-production returned to Carlisle. Local news is more likely to be genuinely reflective of the concerns of this huge rural area if the editors and programmers actually live in the area, not in the urban North East of England!
In addition, there would be the opt-outs from the whole- Region programming that would take up 20 minutes of the main bulletins (and eight out of ten news- items in main bulletins), and the entirety of the lunchtime bulletins. There should be four opt-outs in an expanded ITV Border franchise so that all areas get excellent bespoke localised news- coverage:
- ITV Border (Scotland) which focuses on southern Scotland and the Scottish Borders, with 10% overlap south into Cumbria and Northumberland and 10% overlap north across the Forth-Clyde valley of Central Scotland. The remaining 80% of coverage would be exclusively from the ITV Border (Scotland) area, with 50% from south-west Scotland and 30% from the Scottish Borders.
- ITV Border (Northumberland) would be transmitted from the Berwick-upon-Tweed and Chatton transmitters to north and north-west Northumberland, with focus upon Northumberland- with 20% overlap north to the Scottish Borders and East Lothian/ Edinburgh (Edinburgh is within an hour of Berwick-upon-Tweed on the train) and with 20% overlap south to Tyneside, Wearside and south-east Northumberland. Rural North and West Northumberland would get 60% coverage. Postcode mapping would be used in this digital age to make sure the Tynedale area of West Northumberland picks up the ITV Border North (Northumberland) opt-out- and this all means that the county will be properly covered.
- ITV Border (North West) would be transmitted from the Caldbeck transmitter, just south of Carlisle and also transmitted from Lancaster. The ITV Border (North West) transmission area would take in all of Cumbria and northern Lancashire south to a line running from Blackpool to Colne: The new programming would be 90% concentrated on this opt-out transmission area (Cumbria alone would get 60% coverage, northern Lancashire 30%). There would be just 10% overlap coverage, half of which would be northwards across southern Scotland right up to Edinburgh/Glasgow and north-east to Newcastle-upon-Tyne, and half would be overlap southwards to South Lancashire and Manchester to the south of the transmission area.
- ITV Border (Isle of Man) would be transmitted from Douglas to the Isle of Man. The Crown Dependency would have its own bespoke news- programming like the Channel Islands.
Weekend bulletins and breakfast bulletins, along with political and current affairs programming would be from the whole of the revamped ITV Border North Region, with 10% from the overlap areas north to Glasgow/ Edinburgh, east to Newcastle/ Gateshead and south to South Lancashire/ Manchester. The exception would be southern Scotland getting its own political programming.
The mix of eight out of ten opt-out news and two out of ten pan Regional (of which just one third would be overlap coverage) in the main bulletins, 100% opt-outs in lunch-time and late night bulletins and whole ITV Border North Region news at weekends would lead to a huge improvement in local and Regional news-coverage. Cumbrian viewers, wherever in the county they would be, would see at least 50% coverage of Cumbria. Other Border/ Northern viewers would get news coverage of their areas as follows:
- Northern Lancashire viewers would see 35% coverage of Lancashire and 50% coverage of Cumbria.
- Northumberland viewers would, on aggregate, get 45% coverage of their area in addition to 20% coverage of southern Scotland (most of which they would get concerning the Scottish Borders and East Lothian in the opt-out programming).
- The Isle of Man’s viewers of ITV Border (Isle of Man) would get (as befitting what is, in effect, a separate country) 70% news coverage- about a third of coverage would be right across the new ITV Border North area.
- Viewers of ITV Border (Scotland) would see at least 60% news to be about southern Scotland, a further 10% of news being about the Forth Clyde Valley, 10% news about Northumberland and 10% being news about Cumbria. That means that all areas would get good all-round local news- coverage.
The net effect of such a revamped, expanded ITV Border area (ITV Border could rebrand as ITV Border North: Covering southern Scotland, Northumberland and the North West to reflect its expanded remit) would be the availability of a massively- improved Regional News service for large areas of northern Britain previously covered poorly by Regional Television in their areas.
As to the overall cost of such changes, the additional two opt-outs would cost £5 million annually altogether, but this would be offset by the addition of larger numbers of viewers watching ITV Border who are currently put- off by the offering for Regional Television in their area; that in turn will lead to greater advertising revenue. In addition, product-placement could be explored as a means for attracting more revenue for ITV to pay for a beefed-up ITV Border Region- a big corporate outfit like Gretna Gateway Outlet Village could be persuaded to advertise their presence across the Region in this way. Savings would be made to ITV through ITV Granada relinquishing responsibility of the Isle of Man, news gathering from South Cumbria and northern Lancashire. ITV Tyne Tees would also see some savings through not having to cover much of Northumberland. There would be one-off costs of tweaking transmitters in Northumberland, Lancaster and on the Isle of Man to receive ITV Border output, but the overall gains of making sure (potentially) one million viewers get a much more tailored news-output would reap dividends within a few years.
The remaining problems are that ITV refuse to consider such measures, or that Regional programmers at ITV Granada in the North West and ITV Tyne Tees in the North East refuse to give up the northern parts of their transmission areas to ITV Border. ITV Border could refuse to take on the responsibility for the proposed new areas for fear of “diluting” coverage for existing viewers (the additional opt-outs more than takes care of this problem, southern Scotland, for instance would get excellent coverage). In that case, Government pressure could be sought via OFCOM (who oversee Independent Television provision in the UK) to DEMAND that ITV make the required changes by cutting the franchise-areas for ITV Granada and ITV Tyne Tees and transferring these to ITV Border.