BBC North West and ITV Granada’s coverage remains unacceptable for their northern viewers. Suggested template for BBC North West to cover Cumbria and North Lancs. better.

Dear Readers

For the first time since the start of September, ITV Granada finally featured a news- item mentioning Cumbria- Barrow-in-Furness is to receive £25 million to help boost regeneration as part of the Conservative Government’s “Levelling Up” programme and Blackpool is to get £40 million. But South Cumbrian viewers of ITV Granada Reports should never have had to go seven weeks without seeing a mention of their county on their Regional News from ITV!

There has been some sporadic coverage of (mainly South) Cumbria on BBC North West Tonight, if the county is to be mentioned in evening bulletins it is normally one news-item out of about ten. This may be followed by some nights with no coverage of Cumbria at all. This evening, Barrow being in receipt of £25 million did get covered on BBC North West Tonight. Yesterday the fact that most of Cumbria was under the Tier One restrictions (moderate risk of Coronavirus) whilst Barrow was under Tier Two restrictions (High Risk of Coronavirus) was covered on BBC North West Tonight, mainly as part of the main news- item on Tier Three restrictions (Very High Risk of Coronavirus) being extended to Warrington.

However, neither ITV Granada nor BBC North West (which though it is marginally better in its coverage of Lancashire and South Cumbria) provide a North West Regional News- service in any way fitting for the 800,000 folk who happen to live in northern Lancashire or South Cumbria- almost all of whom live just a bit too far south to receive ITV Border. For these same populations, the 80%-plus coverage of Manchester, Liverpool and Cheshire on the North West Regional Television News- providers is scarcely local, being over an hour’s drive away and the amount of more directly relevant coverage is thin on the ground.

What is really needed is a more local and geographically-focussed North West Regional News- service, one that covers the geographic spread of North West England- i.e. Cumbria and Lancashire, with less coverage of Manchester and Merseyside. Such a geographic North West Regional News- service would also cover northern and West Cumbria in news-output, since that is still part of North West England. A North West Regional News- service covering North West England on the basis of geographical area in this way would have 45% coverage of Cumbria, 30% coverage of Lancashire with the remaining 25% covering Manchester, Merseyside and Cheshire together. Clearly, for the relatively sparsely-populated areas of South Cumbria and northern Lancashire (compared to places further south) such a news- service would represent a massive improvement on what they currently get.

Of course, the BBC North West and ITV Granada transmission areas also cover the Isle of Man and they do not extend across northern and West Cumbria: However, even if there was just 10% total coverage of northern Cumbria (providing overlap coverage northwards for the benefit of folk living in South Cumbria), this would leave 25% coverage of Cumbria as a whole, and that could free up 15% coverage to the Isle of Man- which is only fair since the Isle of Man is a Crown Dependency. This would still represent a massive improvement.

Could it be done? On the face of it, it would be impossible since over five million folk living in the Greater Manchester, Merseyside and Cheshire areas would never accept sharing just two or three out of ten news- items between them! But it could still be done if both ITV Granada and BBC North West could liaise between themselves to decide to provide viewers with a choice dependent on how the BBC and ITV are funded and taking into account the slightly more northerly-extended transmission area for BBC North West.

ITV Granada Reports is dependent upon advertising revenue- and by implication- viewer numbers: Large numbers of folk living in Manchester, Merseyside and Cheshire already watch ITV Granada Reports- and it would lose many of these viewers (and revenue) if they sharply reduced coverage of these areas to focus on Lancashire, the Isle of Man and Cumbria. What they might gain in more northerly viewers (and more viewers on the Isle of Man) in the less- populated north of the North West would not make up for the loss of viewers in the urban south of the ITV Granada Region. However, that is not strictly true because other ITV programmes such as Coronation Street and Britain’s Got Talent would still be highly- watched across Manchester, Merseyside and Cheshire, so major companies would still advertise heavily across ITV Granada’s network. The bigger threat to advertising revenue comes from the Coronavirus Pandemic and the attendant lockdown- induced Recession; ITV have already discussed “Making Savings”- but they should leave Regional Television well alone!

The BBC, however is funded by the Television License fee and, even if BBC North West Tonight lost 500,000 or even one million viewers overall it would have little impact on it’s Income streams. It’s unlikely that BBC North West Tonight would lose that many viewers because of the very popular Roger Johnson, Annabel Tiffin and weather- presenter Owain Wyn Evans, not unless they severely hacked back at coverage in the more populated areas of North West England. Thus BBC North West is in a stronger position to drop some of the Sports coverage and a couple of news items (one from Greater Manchester, one from Merseyside) in order to make their Regional News programme much more “Geographically North West England”. I would suggest something like the following:

Twelve news-items instead of ten in main bulletins, six instead of five in lunchtime/ weekend bulletins achieved by cutting one minute off the Sport in the main bulletins (this won’t seriously upset football fans when nowadays they have whole television channels devoted to their teams- i.e. Manchester United TV) and trimming half a minute off the second and third news-bulletins. The breakdown of the twelve news-items should then be as follows:

  1. Northern and West Cumbria – one news-item.
  2. South Cumbria – one news-item
  3. The Isle of Man – two news-items
  4. Lancashire – two news-items
  5. Cheshire and High Peak – two news items
  6. Manchester and Merseyside – three news items
  7. One Headline news-item (anywhere in Region, not northern Cumbria)

For the shorter lunchtime and weekend bulletins the breakdown of six news-items (achieved by trimming 30 seconds off the Sports) should be as follows:

  1. Cumbria (all the county) – one news-item.
  2. The Isle of Man – one news-item
  3. Lancashire – one news-item
  4. Cheshire, Merseyside and High Peak – one news-item
  5. Greater Manchester – one news-item
  6. One Headline news-item (anywhere in Region, not northern Cumbria)

The duration of the news-items should still leave room for some Sports-coverage, the Weather-forecast and room to provide coverage of major events, as follows:

  1. Five minutes for Headline news- item
  2. Two minutes for second news-item
  3. Two minutes for third news- item.
  4. One minute each for the other nine news-items
  5. Four minutes for the Sports coverage
  6. Four minutes for the Weather Forecast
  7. One minute for Banter/ Engaging with Viewers

For major events, such as flooding across the North West, the headline news- item can “count” as additional news-items from other areas of the North West if these are included in the news report. In the event of a major incident, like a terrorist attack in Manchester, flexibility would be permitted but a short five minute round-up of other news should still be inserted to include an area-breakdown as for short bulletins. The short five-minute bulletins would be as follows in time-allocation:

  1. 90 seconds for Headline news-item
  2. One minute for second news-item
  3. 22 seconds each for four further news-items (it has been done)
  4. 20 seconds for Sports results
  5. 40 seconds for Weather forecast.

(Lunchtime bulletins are a few minutes longer so the first news item could be two minutes, the third through sixth could be one minute each – with the Sports and Weather set at one minute’s duration)

If ITV Granada were permitted to major on the urban south of the North West, BBC North West Tonight could provide a Regional News- service as- per the above template. Since the headline news could be anywhere in the transmission area (and is likely to be in the area of highest population) Greater Manchester and Merseyside would still be getting (mostly) four news- items a night between them and these would probably take up half of the news- coverage by duration- so this is unlikely to mean a big loss of viewers. However, there would clearly be a massive improvement in coverage for locations in the north of North West England and on the Isle of Man, with a third of the news-items being about Cumbria and the Isle of Man. South Cumbrian viewers would receive two news- items about their county on the main evening bulletins every night.

None of this would involve huge up-front expenditure, it would just involve some liaison between ITV Granada and BBC North West about who should cover the northern North West better, because South Cumbrians and North Lancastrians are not enjoying good all-round local news-coverage. BBC North West, because of the way the BBC is funded, is likely to be able to stand some loss of viewers in the south of the Region in order to greatly improve the North West Regional Television News- service for viewers in South Cumbria, northern Lancashire and on the Isle of Man.

However, if BBC North West followed the above template for Regional News coverage they may indeed find they have more viewers overall- since they will still (largely) retain Mancunian and Scouse viewers but gain more North Lancastrian, Cumbrian and Manx viewers.

If you live in northern Lancashire, South Cumbria or on the Isle of Man and think that the current Regional News provision is dire- and would like to suggest the above template to BBC North West Tonight then email them at: nwt@bbc.co.uk

Published by northwestisnorthwest

I live near Alston in north -east Cumbria (and yes, it is in North West England). I have friends who live in the middle part of North West England - near Lancaster (which is where I went to University and used to live until 14 years ago). A big problem is that the Regional Television Bulletins for the North West covers the southern third of the Region about 90%,(plus a part of Derbyshire which is NOT the North West of England), covers the middle third of North West England poorly and covers the northern third of North West England not at all! People living in the westernmost part of North West England (around St. Bees Head) have local BBC news on their televisions which is 90% about North East England!!

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