2nd December 2020
Both BBC North West Tonight and ITV Granada Reports cover what are essentially the same transmission areas. Both the two main North West Regional Television News services major on the highly- populated urban areas of Manchester, Liverpool, Salford and surrounding areas but, although BBC North West Tonight covers the North of the Region better than ITV Granada Reports, both main Regional News services cover Cumbria, northern Lancashire and the Isle of Man really poorly. Coverage is by population, not geographical area, so low populated South Cumbria and the Isle of Man always loses out to Manchester/ Liverpool. This means that viewers in places like Kendal, Kirkby Lonsdale, Ulverston, Millom and (in North Lancashire) Carnforth and Hornby get lots of news about locations over an hour’s drive to the south of them but very little local coverage.
Viewers in that part of South Cumbria in and immediately north of Kendal can easily switch over to ITV Border (English version)- in order to receive very good coverage of their county. Elsewhere in South Cumbria, if viewers have Sky or Freeview, they can also tune in to ITV Border (England). However, viewers of Regional Television in those parts of South Cumbria and northern Lancashire that receive ITV Granada might not know that ITV Border (England) is accessible from where they are if they have Sky or Freeview, and they might not know that ITV Border (England) covers Cumbria very well- enabling them to get good coverage just northwards of where they live as an antidote to always getting news well to the south of their communities.
All the same, this is not an ideal situation for the one million potential viewers of Regional Television who live in northern Lancashire, South Cumbria and the Isle of Man, especially as ITV Border (England) no longer covers the Isle of Man in it’s output: The ideal Regional News- service for a small town like Carnforth in North Lancashire or Cartmel in South Cumbria would be one that is clearly about North West England but which also covers Cumbria, northern Lancashire and the Isle of Man much more effectively. A good North West Regional service here would be one that does have some coverage of Manchester, Liverpool and South Lancashire, since these are places that folk would travel to shop, go to the airport or go for major surgery if seriously ill. Manchester is the de- facto capital of North West England so a North West Regional News service- as befitting Lancashire and South Cumbria would still recognise this- and ITV Border will never cover the urban south of North West England because that would upset the Cumbrians who watch the English version of ITV Border.
However, a good Regional News service for these parts of northern North West England would also provide much more localised coverage and also cover northern Cumbria- with which South Cumbrians and North Lancastrians still have links because they visit northern Cumbria, work there or even go shopping in Carlisle, which is within an hour of Lancaster by train. ITV Granada Reports does not cover any areas north of Preston at all well and never covers northern Cumbria whilst BBC North West Tonight covers Lancashire well, but covers Cumbria poorly.
There is a solution to the problem of poor Regional News coverage north of Preston that the two main North West Regional Television News broadcasters can rectify: They can greatly improve coverage of Cumbria, northern Lancashire and the Isle of Man without paying for opt-outs, without tweaking transmitters and without paying for extra reporters to cover Cumbria, Lancashire or the Isle of Man. It is called COLLABORATION!
Currently, there is the absurd situation whereby across much of England the Regional Television services provided by ITV almost exactly mimic those provided by the BBC. In few other countries around the World are there two or more major Regional broadcast services in Regions across most of the country that almost mimic each other in what they cover, the areas they cover and the geographic mix of their output. In the North West of England, both BBC North West Tonight and ITV Granada Reports cover the Isle of Man, Cheshire, Manchester, Liverpool, Lancashire and a southern portion of Cumbria. In Yorkshire, there’s a BBC Look North (Leeds) covering most of Yorkshire and ITV Calendar (Leeds version) also covering the same geographical area and providing the same content. BBC Look North (Hull) covers East Yorkshire and Lincolnshire and there’s also the Hull version of ITV Calendar which also covers East Yorkshire and Lincolnshire. In the English West Midlands there is BBC Midlands Today and ITV News Central both of which cover Staffordshire, Shropshire, the Black Country, Birmingham, Coventry, Herefordshire and Worcestershire. In London, both BBC London and ITV London Tonight cover London, Hertfordshire, northern Surrey, north-west Kent and south-west Essex. This duplication is not only a waste of resources, but across the two main National Television News-producers (BBC and ITV1) resources are not spent on Regional Television in an optimal manner.
In North West England BBC North West Tonight and ITV Granada Reports fight over the same viewers (mostly- over four million of them- concentrated in Greater Manchester and Merseyside), both are less concerned with larger geographical areas with less people in the north of their respective transmission areas- i.e. northern Lancashire and South Cumbria. The result is both Mancunians and Liverpudlians have two news channels dedicated to providing them with excellent news-coverage: If they watch ITV Granada Reports at 6.pm they will receive 70% or more of coverage about Greater Manchester and Merseyside; they can then switch over to BBC1 to watch North West Tonight to receive 65 to 70% coverage about Greater Manchester and Merseyside (often about the same news-events that featured half an hour earlier on ITV Granada Reports!). Meanwhile, a viewer in Carnforth will watch ITV1 Granada Reports, then watch BBC North West Tonight to find no news northwards of Preston on either ITV Granada Reports or BBC North West Tonight! The Carnforth viewer might later hear from a friend that there was a fatal accident on the M6 near Penrith (less than an hour’s drive away) and that viewer would wonder why neither the major “local” North West News bulletins provided any information about it.
It is a waste of resources for two or more Regional News services to provide almost- identical output, when those Regional News services also leaves significant numbers of viewers at the northern margins of the transmission areas short- changed. So there needs to be a collaboration between ITV Granada and BBC North West to discuss how their collective resources regarding Regional Television production might be put to better use. Lucy West, The Head of ITV News Granada and Michelle Mayman, Senior Editor at BBC North West Tonight along with Lucy Meacock from ITV Granada and Roger Johnson, the main news- presenter for BBC North West Tonight could meet for a working- dinner one evening at the Lowry Hotel in Salford. The main subject for conversation should be the “Collaboration and Efficient Use of Our Combined Resources To Cover All of North West England and the Isle of Man Well”. The conversation should cover the following points, discuss the different ways the BBC and ITV are funded and (from that) lead to the following solutions- so that viewers in Manchester and Merseyside retain their excellent coverage, whilst those in northern Lancashire, South Cumbria and the Isle of Man end up with a much- improved Regional News service too:
- That both BBC North West and ITV Granada are fighting it out over the loyalty of Mancunians, Liverpudlians and Cheshire folk- as well as the North West’s sports fans, whilst South Cumbrians, Manx and North Lancastrians get little meaningful coverage from either service (if they get any at all).
- The North West transmission areas extend 150 miles from the west of the Isle of Man to the Pennines east of Manchester and extends 130 miles from Malpas in South Cheshire to Millom in Cumbria. The area is home to seven million people, and it is not possible for just one North West Regional News service to provide a good meaningful news-coverage for every community across North West England and on the Isle of Man. However, two Regional News services could provide much better whole Region coverage across the two 27- minute programmes (and shorter programmes at lunchtime and at weekends).
- The different means by which ITV Granada Reports and BBC North West Tonight is funded, the former by Advertising and other Private- sector revenue and the latter from the TV License Fee dictates what [different] areas of the North West the two main North West Regional Television News services should focus more on. It means that Private- sector revenue dependent ITV Granada should focus on what brings in the most viewers, namely providing a news- service and sports- coverage most likely to satisfy the largest numbers of people. That means ITV Granada Reports- whose transmission area does not extend quite as far north into Cumbria as does that of BBC North West Tonight- should focus on the densely populated south of North West England, namely Greater Manchester, Merseyside and Cheshire along with the High Peak area of north-west Derbyshire with a population of almost 5.5 million inhabitants. ITV Granada should also do more of the Sports coverage.
- BBC North West, funded as it is from what is effectively Public-sector funds should allocate more air-time to areas further north and on the Isle of Man. This should be achieved by shaving a minute off the Sports coverage and limiting the Greater Manchester/ Merseyside/ Cheshire coverage to fifty percent and then apportioning (at a minimum) coverage of the following counties at:
- Isle of Man- minimum 10% of all news coverage
- Lancashire- minimum 20% of all news coverage
- Cumbria- including overlap to northern Cumbria- minimum of 10% of all coverage.
- Another 10% could be from anywhere in Lancashire, the Isle of Man and South Cumbria.
If the outcome of the Working Supper was for ITV1 Granada Reports to cover Greater Manchester, Merseyside, Cheshire and north-west Derbyshire along with Sports coverage more, whilst BBC North West Tonight committed to fifty percent news- coverage of Lancashire, Cumbria and the Isle of Man there would be a satisfactory Regional News service available for all parts of North West England. The Manchester United- supporting Mancunian would be happy, the Liverpool Football Club- supporting Liverpudlian would be happy….as too would our example- viewer in Carnforth (North Lancashire) who would not only find Lancashire well- covered but news about places to the north of him (across Cumbria) that he might be familiar with. This viewer would receive good all- round local news- coverage that would still be recognisably North West Regional News.
Once the way forward is decided, the BBC Trust and OFCOM would need to be informed of the proposals. Since both BBC North West and ITV Granada have a mandate to provide good quality local news for all North West and Isle of Man viewers, a proposal for the BBC and ITV in the North West to pool resources like this so that all parts of North West England gain at least one Regional News service providing better local coverage should be welcomed.