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Monday, 15 October, 2001, 23:07 GMT 00:07 UK
ITV and BBC still battling at 10pm
Michael Buerk
Michael Buerk is a familiar BBC face
It is a year to the day since the BBC launched its Ten O'Clock News bulletin, and the public's thirst for news is high - not least because of the attacks on the US and the current air raids on Afghanistan.

And the BBC and ITV are still competing for viewers in the time slot they have shared since January, in a move which put them both firmly under the media microscope.

The BBC decided to move into the 10pm slot vacated by ITV in March 1999.

But the Independent Television Commission said ITV's 11pm replacement was not getting enough viewers, and so News at Ten had to be reinstated.

Many commentators felt at the time that a 10pm programme on both channels would result in fewer people watching the news. Former Culture Secretary Chris Smith said at the time he had "personal misgivings" about the clash.

Sir Trevor McDonald
Sir Trevor McDonald fronts News at Ten once more
He said the government would be watching the ratings to ensure the overall audience for news on the two channels did not suffer.

And politicians from all the main parties attacked the BBC's decision to move its flagship news bulletin to 10pm.

But their fears may have been unfounded. Indeed, since the 11 September attacks on the US viewing figures for the Ten O'Clock News have been up by almost one million to just under six million.

The BBC provides a 32-minute bulletin, including regional news, presented either by Michael Buerk or Peter Sissons.

ITV's news is provided by ITN, with Sir Trevor McDonald at the helm, with a 20-minute bulletin shown three or four times a week.

'Dumbing down'

By April 2001, news audiences in general had increased by two million, with more than 10 million viewers tuning in, compared with eight million before the switch.

The BBC's head of news, Roger Mosey, wrote in Sunday Business in August that it was gratifying that "ITN's prediction that 'when we go head-to-head we always beat the BBC' - has, gratifyingly, proved to be wrong".

Mr Mosey also noted that it was "about time" the "D" words - dumbing down - were also laid to rest.

"The correct defence is to play to the best instincts of the audience and not to assume that a market focus automatically leads to pap," he said.


Citing an example from August, he noted that 4.6 million people were watching BBC One at 9.45pm - and 4.6 million people then stayed for the news.

Over on ITV, 7.1 million people were watching David Jason as Inspector Frost at 9.45pm, but only 3.4 million remained with the channel for News At Ten.

While the BBC was leading on the conflict in Macedonia, ITN lead its bulletins on a police search at Michael Barrymore's house.

"It is only a snapshot, but the evidence is accumulating and it should be a reason for reflection: nobody has ever had a better slogan than "Trust the people", Mr Mosey added.

But ITN remain critical of the BBC's decision to shift its news.

A spokesman for the company which provides ITV's news, citing previous falls in the BBC's 9pm audiences, said: "It has accelerated the decline in the BBC's news audience."

ITN maintains that the BBC news audience has declined from an average of 5.2m viewers to 5.3m in 1998, to 5.1m to 5.2m in 1999, to 4.9m in 2001.

Unsurprisingly the BBC tells a different story.

The BBC Ten O'Clock News is now the most popular late news bulletin every night of the week, says the corporation, with an average audience of 5m viewers.

But while the news agendas battle one another, what about the other programmes?

On 1 June, reality TV bonanza Big Brother beat the BBC's Ten O'Clock News in the ratings war.

Just 4.3 million people tuned in to watch the BBC's flagship news show on Wednesday while 4.4 million saw the latest update from the Big Brother house.

See also:

26 Sep 01 | TV and Radio
The significance of ITN's news deal
23 Jan 01 | Entertainment
First blood to ITV in news battle
09 Oct 01 | TV and Radio
Kirsty Young 'banned' from ITV
15 Oct 01 | TV and Radio
BBC news move 'halts decline'
05 Oct 01 | TV and Radio
ITN's Young back to Channel 5
31 Jul 01 | TV and Radio
ITN's global expansion
26 Sep 01 | TV and Radio
ITN keeps ITV news
20 Jan 01 | Entertainment
Battle of the bulletins
21 Sep 00 | UK
ITV News At Ten returns
13 Oct 00 | UK
End of the Nine
14 Feb 01 | Entertainment
BBC wins news battle
19 Feb 01 | Entertainment
First month laurels to ITV
23 Jan 01 | Entertainment
Ten O'Clock blues?
02 Sep 98 | Entertainment
Bong! Death knell sounds for News at Ten
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