Michael Grade: Viewers won't notice regional news cuts

ITV executive chairman Michael Grade has said he does not think viewers will notice a decline in quality if the broadcaster goes ahead with the proposed reorganisation of its regional news output.

In an interview for Radio 4’s Media Show this afternoon, Grade said ITV staff were “surprisingly upbeat” about the future of regional news and the investment being made into newsgathering technology.

“If you talk to the people who are going to run the regional news, they are surprisingly upbeat about the investment we are making in equipment that will enable them to maintain the high quality,” he said. “I don’t think viewers will notice the difference.”

ITV is proposing to merge its 17 news regions into nine larger regions – and last week announced plans to axe 1,000 jobs across the company, including 429 in the regions. The news restructure has received the provisional backing of media regulator Ofcom.

This morning, Grade outlined ITV’s response to Ofcom’s public service broadcasting review at a Royal Television Society breakfast in London. He suggested that ITV might consider surrendering its status as a public service broadcaster – opting instead for the freedom enjoyed by other providers such as Sky News.

“It’s time for ITV to be left alone to operate as a business,” he told delegates.

“We intend to sustain regional output for as long as possible, but given the economic realities, there can be no bankable guarantees as there were in the past.”

Asked afterwards about ITV giving up PSB status, Grade said: “Just as Sky makes a choice to do Sky News, we would be under no obligation to do it [regional news]. I think that would be sustainable.”

Grade urged the regulator to be bold and provide a “fair and flexible regulatory structure” for ITV, which has warned that the cost of providing regional news outweighs the benefits of having public service status in the coming years.

“The debate has got to catch up very fast with the reality and the dynamics of the market,” he told the Media Show. “We used to have a monopoly in those days – and when you run a monopoly life is a lot easier. Every cupboard you looked in, five pound notes fell out. It was a licence to print money.

“Some of the problems were [self inflicted]. But you cannot blame ITV for the structural changes – that’s the evolution of broadcasting. Unfortunately the regulatory regime hasn’t kept pace.”

ITV’s falling market value has prompted speculation that the broadcaster could face a takeover bid.

Grade said: “Every business is for sale at the right price. Our shareholders are extremely patient. As long as we keep making progress I’m sure our shareholders will be supportive.”

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