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Tuesday, 16 October, 2001, 12:01 GMT 13:01 UK
The battle for TV's news audience
BBC news studio
Declining news audiences: A concern for both ITV and BBC
One of the most contentious issues surrounding the BBC's move to a 10pm news slot has been the consequences for the TV news audience.

The BBC maintains that the rescheduling of the news has successfully halted a long term decline in news audiences.

But ITV's news provider ITN says that the falling trend in BBC news audiences identified in the late 1990s has not been halted.

For four of the year's biggest news stories the BBC's Ten O'Clock news beat ITV's late night news - which can be scheduled for other times than 10pm.

Click here to see the ratings

But both late bulletins tend to record smaller audiences than the early evening news.

The BBC now claims an average audience to its 2200 bulletin of five million - the same as the average audience recorded for the Nine O'Clock News.

It says it has stabilised viewing figures, as its 2100 bulletin had been losing viewers by an average of 250,000 a year.

Younger viewers

ITN says that this decline is a continuing trend - and argues that by moving the BBC bulletin to 2200 the BBC has "narrowed consumer choice".

In truth, both channels are concerned by a drift away from TV news among younger viewers, who are faced, particularly in multi-channel households, with ever more choice.

It is a sign of the times that on 16 July, both the BBC's Ten O'Clock News and ITV's News at Ten were beaten in the ratings war by Channel 4's reality TV show Big Brother.

Just 4.7 million people tuned in to watch the BBC's flagship news show on that day and 3.4 million tuned in to ITV's News at Ten - while five million saw the latest update from the Big Brother house.

1. Foot and Mouth

The animal disease epidemic was identified in the UK in February, and the mass slaughter of farm animals in response began on Sunday 24 February. On that day the top four news bulletins were:

  • BBC 2200: 5.6m (a 25% share of viewing)
  • BBC 1725: 5.1m (33% share)
  • ITN 1730: 3.8m (24% share)
  • ITN 2300: 3.7m (25% share)

    2. Selby rail crash

    On Wednesday 28 February 10 people were killed when a car left the road and ended up on a railway line, causing a freight train and a passenger train to collide. The top four bulletins that day were:

  • BBC 1800: 7.3m (a 36% share of viewing)
  • BBC 2200: 7.1m (33% share)
  • ITV 1830: 6m (28% share)
  • ITV 2230: 4.5m (27% share)

    3. Election result

    On Thursday 7 June Labour was re-elected with 413 seats and a majority of 167. There was continuous TV coverage on the night, but the next day (8 June) news viewers could see the final results. The top four news bulletins were:

  • BBC 1800: 5.7m (a 35% share of viewing)
  • BBC 2200: 5.3m (26% share)
  • ITV 1830: 4.5m (27% share)
  • ITV 2300: 2.8m (20% share)

    4. Jill Dando verdict

    On Monday 2 July Barry George was found guilty of the murder of TV presenter Jill Dando after an eight-week trial, sentenced to life imprisonment. The top four bulletins that day were:

  • BBC 10pm: 5.7m (a 28% share of viewing)
  • BBC 6pm: 4.5m (29% share)
  • ITV 6.30pm: 3.9m (24% share)
  • ITV 10pm: 3.7m (18% share)

    For more routine news nights, all news viewing figures are lower.

    (Figures from BARB Consolidated Data)

  • See also:

    15 Oct 01 | TV and Radio
    BBC news move 'halts decline'
    15 Oct 01 | TV and Radio
    ITV and BBC still battling at 10pm
    09 Oct 01 | TV and Radio
    Kirsty Young 'banned' from ITV
    26 Sep 01 | TV and Radio
    ITN keeps ITV news
    20 Jan 01 | Entertainment
    Battle of the bulletins
    26 Sep 01 | TV and Radio
    The significance of ITN's news deal
    19 Feb 01 | Entertainment
    First month laurels to ITV
    23 Jan 01 | Entertainment
    Ten O'Clock blues?
    23 Jan 01 | Entertainment
    First blood to ITV in news battle
    21 Sep 00 | UK
    ITV News At Ten returns
    13 Oct 00 | UK
    End of the Nine
    02 Sep 98 | Entertainment
    Bong! Death knell sounds for News at Ten
    14 Feb 01 | Entertainment
    BBC wins news battle
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