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Tuesday, 16 October, 2001, 11:47 GMT 12:47 UK
Ten O'Clock News tension
BBC's Ten O'Clock News
BBC's Ten O'Clock News: Audience now almost 6m
By media correspondent Torin Douglas

A year after the BBC launched its Ten O'Clock News, it's hard to recall what the fuss was all about.

But the switch from 2100 to 2200 caused a huge row, with the National Consumer Council saying it was reducing viewer choice and the Culture Secretary Chris Smith urging the BBC governors to abandon the plans.

It was the latest in a string of interventions by politicians over the timing of the main evening TV news bulletins.


Critics complained it was dumbing-down, shifting the news to a later slot to make room for more drama and entertainment

Last autumn, ITV surprisingly changed its mind after the BBC announced it was going to take over the slot.

ITV had previously weathered enormous flak when it finally dropped its flagship News at Ten, even starting legal action to stop being forced to move it back.

Egged on by its regulator, the Independent Television Commission, ITV decided to switch back to 10pm on three or four nights a week.

Mr Smith urged the BBC to reconsider its own plans "because having a head-to-head conflict between the main news bulletins made no sense".

Far from reconsidering, the BBC advanced its plans - announcing that the switch to 10pm would begin just two weeks later as part of a new autumn schedule.


Across the year, and particularly in the current situation, these audience figures show UK viewers clearly value the comprehensive and authoritative round-up of foreign, domestic and political news the Ten O'Clock News provides

Richard Sambrook, BBC News

Its director general Greg Dyke predicted the move would halt the decline in the news audience and help revitalise the whole BBC One schedule.

Critics complained it was dumbing-down, shifting the news to a later slot to make room for more drama and entertainment.

A year on, Mr Smith has gone from office, and a million more viewers a night are watching the late evening news on BBC One or ITV1.

Plans for a government review of the BBC's news move have been abandoned.

Figures just released by the BBC show the Ten O'Clock News with an average weeknight audience of 5 million since the move, the same as the Nine O'Clock News in the previous year.

Because viewing at nine had been declining by an average of 250,000 a year since 1996, the BBC argues that the move has stabilized viewing.


When viewers were asked what had changed about BBC One recently, hardly anyone mentioned the timing of the news

It also claims to be pulling ahead of the ITV1 bulletin, which initially won the bigger audience when it moved back to 10pm on January 22nd this year.

Since Monday 11 June, on the days the bulletins have gone head-to-head, the BBC Ten O'Clock News has averaged 5.2 million viewers against News at Ten's 4.2 million.

Across all week nights, the BBC One bulletin's average audience was 5.1 million, against ITV1's 4million.

And since 11 September, the Ten O'Clock News audience has grown to almost 6 million

The director of BBC News, Richard Sambrook said: "Across the year, and particularly in the current situation, these audience figures show UK viewers clearly value the comprehensive and authoritative round-up of foreign, domestic and political news the Ten O'Clock News provides."

The controller of BBC One Lorraine Heggessey said the move had been good for viewers all round.

"It has allowed us to open up our schedule to show more quality drama and strong documentaries like Blue Planet."

And she revealed that when viewers were asked what had changed about BBC One recently, hardly anyone mentioned the timing of the news.


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