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Last Updated: Monday, 14 January 2008, 10:02 GMT
ITV's 'bongs' make their comeback
By Torin Douglas
BBC News media correspondent

Sir Trevor McDonald and Julie Etchingham
The ITV News at Ten team returns with a new-look studio
The return of ITV's News at Ten - complete with Sir Trevor McDonald and those infamous "bongs" - is bound to result in a standoff with the BBC One news team.

But you could be forgiven a feeling of deja vu.

Britain's best-known news bulletin was laid to rest with full battle honours on 4 March, 1999.

After more than 30 years, it seemed like the end of an era - marked as such by rival media, with lengthy, picture-packed obituaries.

Many said ITV would regret the move, and so it proved. ITV's executive chairman Michael Grade described it as a "shocking decision".

Two years later it was back, albeit for just three nights a week - and not always the same nights - prompting the jibe "News at When".

Competitive battle

That saga - and the fact that ITV is now bringing the bulletin back as the centrepiece of a newly-restructured schedule - says a great deal about how television and its news coverage has changed in the past 15 years.

The scrapping of News at Ten followed an extraordinary six-year campaign by ITV bosses to persuade politicians and regulators they should be allowed to shift the peak time news.

In those days, when most homes had only four channels, the scheduling of the main ITV bulletin was seen as one of the pillars of public-service broadcasting.

The Independent Television Commission (ITC), which regulated commercial TV, had the power of veto.

Michael Grade
There have been several changes at ITV since Grade became chairman

Despite News at Ten's heritage as the most popular and innovative bulletin, by the early 1990s it was losing viewers.

Audiences disliked the fact that ITV had to show late night films in two parts, interrupted by half an hour of news.

When ITV first tried to move the bulletin in 1993, there was an outcry - led by the then-Prime Minister John Major.

'Grave mistake'

The ITC made it clear it wouldn't approve the move, and ITV backed down.

Five years later, competition had grown even fiercer with the launch of Five and the growth of multi-channel TV.

The regulator finally relented.

Mr Major said the decision was "a grave mistake". Labour's Gerald Kaufman, chairman of the culture select committee, said it marked a new milestone in the dumbing down of Britain.

It will be more exciting, enterprising and engaging than the BBC's bulletin
ITN's editor-in-chief David Mannion

Political outcry

What ITV hadn't foreseen was that the BBC, under director general Greg Dyke, would move its nine o'clock bulletin to occupy its old slot.

The announcement, in the autumn of 2000, caused another outcry among politicians, who accused the BBC of wanting to marginalise the news.

But in many ways - as ITV had originally recognised - 10 o'clock was a good time for a bulletin.

It enabled the BBC to cover parliamentary votes, as well as the early editions of the newspapers and breaking news from America.

Huw Edwards
Huw Edwards will continue to front the BBC's nightly bulletin

By this stage, the ITC was already reviewing the impact of the loss of News at Ten.

ITV's national news audience had dropped by 14 per cent in a year and the regulator said ITV was failing to meet its public service commitments.

It ordered it to bring forward the late news bulletin. ITV refused, saying it would challenge the ruling in the courts.

The BBC move triggered a compromise.

The ITC and ITV agreed that News at Ten would come back on at least three nights a week, setting up the first head-on clash between the peak time ITV and BBC bulletins.

Editors' blog
Putting the two bulletins head to head will keep all of us on our toes
Peter Horrocks,
Head of BBC Newsroom

But it never really settled. The News at When tag stuck and, in 2004, the bulletin was switched to 2230.

Now News at Ten is back from Monday to Thursday and both news teams are gearing up for the fight.

ITV is trading on the programme's status as a "heritage brand", but giving it a modern look.

There's a new set and it has updated the famous title sequence, swooping in from space along the Thames to the face of Big Ben.

ITN's editor-in-chief David Mannion promises it will be "more exciting, enterprising and engaging than the BBC's bulletin".

The BBC is relying on its specialist correspondents and depth of resources around the world to counter the challenge.

Peter Horrocks
Peter Horrocks faces a fight for the news audience at 2200

The head of the BBC newsroom, Peter Horrocks, says the Ten O'Clock News's audiences have increased and its position there six nights a week, against ITV's four, is a real advantage.

Both sides are promising scoops in the first week, and there will be huge interest in the rival ratings. But the outcome will not be judged in the first week.

"We're taking a long view," says the BBC's Horrocks.

ITV is hoping that, this time, the News at Ten really is back for good.

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02 Jan 08 |  Entertainment
Newsworthy career of Sir Trevor
15 Dec 05 |  Entertainment
ITV News begins later time slot
02 Feb 04 |  Entertainment
BBC claims news ratings victory
24 Dec 01 |  Entertainment
ITV and BBC still battling at 10pm
15 Oct 01 |  Entertainment
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19 Feb 01 |  Entertainment
News at Ten: Why the fuss?
18 May 00 |  UK News

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