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Thursday, November 19, 1998 Published at 20:28 GMT


ITV news flagship sunk

Making headlines: News at Ten's Trevor McDonald

The death knell has sounded for ITV's News at Ten after 30 years in the prime-time slot.

BBC's Nick Higham: Viewers are watching it less and less
The Independent Television Commission has agreed to changes in the news programme's weekly schedules, which will now see its main bulletin broadcast at 6.30pm.

A later bulletin will be put out at 11pm with headlines at 10pm.

ITV loses a third of its audience at 10pm and executives say the move has been forced by competition from more channels.

Audience decline

ITC Chairman Sir Robin Biggam said: "It is right to give ITV the opportunity to put its plans to the test.

"Of course, many viewers value News at Ten as an institution, but as a high-quality news programme its audiences have continued to decline."

ITN issued a statement saying that it "intends to build on the News At Ten tradition in producing television of the highest quality with the widest possible appeal".

The ITC has however imposed conditions on the move.

'It is not good news'

Among them, it says ITV must not reduce funding for its national and international television news and that an agreed number of 30-minute slots for regional programmes should be provided around peak time.

[ image: Culture Secretary Chris Smith opposed the move]
Culture Secretary Chris Smith opposed the move
The decision follows a long and bitterly-fought campaign on both sides, with Prime Minister Tony Blair, Culture Secretary Chris Smith and the influential Culture, Media and Sport select committee against the move.

Last month, Mr Smith said: "By moving the main Channel 3 bulletins outside the heart of peak there is a risk of diminishing their availability to viewers and their capacity to compete effectively with the BBC and other nationwide news bulletins."

Former Prime Minister John Major said after the decision: "I suspect it will lead to a downgrading of the quality of evening television.

"It is certainly not good news."

However, major advertisers expressed "strong support" for ITV's proposals in letters to the ITC.

BBC: No move

ITV declined to say how quickly News At Ten would be scrapped.

[ image: BBC's News Chief Executive Tony Hall: 9 stays at 9]
BBC's News Chief Executive Tony Hall: 9 stays at 9
But its Chairman Richard Eyre said the new schedule, which begins next year, would be "an exciting and far-reaching overhaul of ITV's prime-time".

Meanwhile, the BBC gave its support to ITV's new scheduling of its news bulletins and hinted that no such move would be applied to its flapship news programme.

BBC News Chief Executive Tony Hall said: "Our viewers want a serious news programme at the heart of the evening schedule, which the BBC will continue to deliver at 9pm.

"ITV will, I'm sure, continue to provide strong bulletins wherever they are scheduled."

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