Nobody knows if ITV has a game plan but the circumstantial evidence would certainly suggest that the UTV name is being downgraded.
- UTV as a channel no longer has any distinctive characteristics from ITV except for the legally mandated local programmes – just like ITV Wales. The trails have network voiceovers and the idents are the same as ITV’s.
- UTV-branded versions of network sponsorship bumpers appear to be getting phased out. UTV viewers now see stings for the ITV National Weather, ITV Movies and ITV football coverage – they used to be rebranded and still are on STV.
- There are no longer any other UTV services to cross-promote. U.tv has gone and U105 has been sold off.
- Corporate references to ITV are creeping in. For instance in the Soccer Aid and X-Factor promotions. How many people realise the ITV Hub logo on trails is not promoting ITV as the name of the channel?
- There is the time, effort and cost involved with making two sets of trails and employing Julian Simmons and Gillian Porter as announcers. This could only be justified long-term if it was boosting audiences or generating more cash.
On the other hand, ITV will not want to be seen as a nasty big business coming in and bulldozing a significant local company. A row over the name is one to avoid when they have faced rows over job cuts, axing UTV Live Tonight and leaving Havelock House for much smaller premises.
They also would be mindful of the popularity of UTV Live and the fact the name avoids the Ulster/Northern Ireland question. “U” acknowledges the company heritage but has not officially stood for “Ulster” for years.
My guess is that sooner or later ITV trails and idents will be introduced. The news will still be called UTV Live but include explicit ITV News branding too. UTV will remain the local brand but under the ITV master brand.
When will this happen? Maybe it will happen by stealth? Maybe with the next brand refresh? Maybe with the next business review? Maybe not at all – but I doubt it.
Remember, politicians don’t watch much telly. They won’t care if continuity changes and if they kicked up a fuss a few weeks later they could look daft – especially when they should be discussing Brexit or restoring Stormont.
It’s worth remembering STV only ditched Grampian once all the programme cuts in Aberdeen had been settled.