As we wait to see whether the New Year will bring some ITV branding to UTV, it’s worth taking a look at the long process which led to the decline of regional brands elsewhere. The move towards standardised branding across most of the network was linked to the series of mergers which gradually created ITV plc but was distinct from it. It’s probably safe to say that the name “ITV” was more commonly used by viewers in some areas than others.
By 1993, viewers in the south and south west regions had seen three franchises within 12 years – Westward/TSW/Westcountry and Southern/TVS/Meridian. London viewers had known a two-company split since the start of commercial broadcasting. All adult Midland viewers would be well aware that the service they knew as Central had emerged from what had been ATV.
Anecdotally, it was no surprise to find viewers in much of the south called the third channel by all sorts of names – ITV, the current franchise name, a former franchise name or Channel 3. But in other areas, the local brand was synonymous with ITV – Granada, Tyne Tees, Scottish/STV. Companies with strong local identities which had been broadcasters since the 50s.
The original ITV corporate logo of 1989 was used in different ways in different regions. The London companies and YTV were the only stations with out-of-vision continuity to make full use of it.
After 1993, companies started to merge. Presentation and promotions operations were an obvious candidate for back office savings. Local idents remained but sometimes voiceovers were shared between regions. The brief C3 North East period may not have been successful but may have shown that the Tyne Tees name was not quite as strong as some imagined.
By 1998, the partly consolidated network was facing new challenges – Channel 5, a growing uptake of satellite TV and the newly launched digital channels. Promotions production was centralised and standardised though, in practice, by then many regions were already using ITV branded trails. A year later came formal dual branding with idents featuring the local names and the new ITV logo. Carlton’s brand was introduced to Central and Westcountry.
In short, local identities were being diluted and confused. Market research no doubt suggested some names resonated more strongly than others but standardisation was needed across England and Wales.
Now something which may be heretical for Pres fans – but if you doubt this ask your friends, relations or anyone else who watches TV “normally”. If a brand name – say Granada – had real strength, it was not about local continuity, idents and trails. It was about the company’s programmes and broader reputation – although, sure, local continuity could certainly reinforce this.
By 2002, when regional names were confined to local programmes and junctions, people were used to the ITV 1 name and variations in the schedule beyond local output were increasingly rare. The end of regional continuity was mourned by some in England but passed with little public comment. Four years later it was a similar story when the STV brand name was introduced to the Grampian region.
UTV was a separate company until 2016 and minimised the use of the ITV name. So what might the strengths of the UTV brand be today?
- Familiarity: especially for older viewers.
- Reputation: a trusted name for news and local factual programming.
- Heritage: even if the days of Kelly or The Irish RM have long gone?
Is ITV seen as the generic name for the network – or the name of a sister channel on the mainland? Would diluting the UTV name in trails and marketing have an impact on how the local output was perceived? All fascinating questions to ponder.