Viewers would gain if regional news disappeared from the ITV1 schedule by having more shows to watch like the X Factor, outgoing ITV chairman Michael Grade said today.
ITV has already slashed its £120 million regional news budget by a third, with the loss of 430 jobs, in an attempt to defend the company from a downturn in advertising revenue.
Today, Grade, who will be replaced by former Asda chief executive Archie Norman in January, conceded that there could be further cuts but stated that viewers would benefit if ITV stopped broadcasting regional news altogether.
He told the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee: “If regional news were to disappear in its entirety…I think that would improve ITV’s ability to compete commercially and there would be a gain for viewers in our ability to invest in domestic production, which is arguably what the vast majority of our audience wishes us to do.
“They want to watch Doc Martin, they want to watch the X Factor, they want to watch I’m a Celebrity, they want to watch Coronation Street and Emmerdale.
“These are shows that in today’s fragmented market attract tens of millions of viewers. That’s what people want to watch.”
Grade said it was essential for the future health of broadcasting that ITV was ‘sufficiently viable economically” to go on producing the kind of show views wanted to see.
He said: “In the main, they want us to deliver hugely popular drama and entertainment, made by British producers. If we have to denude the network schedules to pay for loss-making regional news I have to say viewers would suffer.
Grade told MPs he could not rule out further cost-cutting in regional news, ‘but I don’t think it’s a foregone conclusion.”
When ITV was “a monopoly” it was “able to do all kinds of wonderful things including regional news. But the world has changed, it’s much more competitive”, he said.
“Nobody likes to lose anything they have done well for so many years. Sadly, economic necessity says that it’s no longer affordable.”
Grade said ITV would maintain impartial national and international news broadcasts in order to remain competitive with BBC1 but regional regional news, he said, may have to go.
He said: “As a subject of the UK I think it’s highly undesirable for the BBC to be the sole provider of regional news in the regions and nations. As a businessman running ITV…it’s unaffordable.”