Revised Tu 20-Jun-06
Where did Central and Westcountry go?
On Monday 6th September 1999, the Central and Westcountry TV brands were dropped. From that day viewers in the Midlands and South West of England would now find London-based Carlton providing their "regional" television service.
Why did this happen?
In a press release, Mark Haskell, Westcountry's managing director, explained: "The television market has changed out of all recognition since the early 1980s. It doesn't make sense any more for ITV to have 15 different names all around the country." Oddly enough, Central's MD, Ian Squires, was attributed almost exactly the same words in his press release. "The current situation with programmes 'made by Carlton, presented by Central and shown on ITV' is confusing. We want to present viewers with our brand – Carlton – and make sure that it means the very best in quality, popular entertainment."
Was the situation really confusing?
This set-up had been around since the beginning of ITV in 1955. ITV has always been a federation of different companies, each providing a service to its own region and contributing programmes to the whole network. If anything, Carlton are actually causing confusion. Although the Central and Westcountry names had gone, the programmes Central News and Westcountry Live lived on. In the days before deregulation, Carlton would have had to consult viewers before making changes such as these. Had Carlton consulted I don't believe viewers would have mentioned being confused nor would they have decided that their interests would be better served by the Carlton name rather than the existing company.
So why has this really happened?
Perhaps it has something to do with Carlton wishing to please not the viewers but its shareholders. According to a report in the Financial Times of 15th October 1999 by Peter Thal:
The message from investors seemed to be that there should be a single ITV company and the Govt should relax ownership rules to allow this to happen. Re-branding by Carlton appeared to be a nod in this direction. But never mind the shareholders, who was taking account of the viewers' opinions? Didn't they count?
It's only a change of name though isn't it?
No, it's also a cost cutting (i.e. job cutting exercise), as this clipping from the Birmingham Evening Mail of 23rd September 1999, shows:
But viewers don't care about names, they care about the programmes
Names are very important. When Kellogg's decided to change the name of Coco Pops to Choco Krispies, sales fell. So eventually they were forced to try a new name - they chose Coco Pops again! And names should reflect where you live. For example, sales of the Daily Mirror in Wales have risen since they re-launched it there as The Welsh Mirror.
Imagine the outcry if Kwik Save bought up Harrod's and re-named it Kwik Save of Knightsbridge?
Why wasn't there a big stink about this then?
Unless you lived in the regions affected, you were unlikely to have heard much about the Carltonisation of ITV. But that doesn't mean that viewers were happy. Remember that the national newspaper and television industries are based in London and are often focussed mainly on London issues.
But if Carlton meant quality, what's the problem?
Carlton didn't seem to mean anything. According to The Times on 1st October 1999:
Why didn't the ITC do something about this?
The ITC saw the dumping of Central and Westcountry as a marketing exercise, and as such outside of its remit. The television watchdog was interested in ensuring the continued regional commitment of the ITV companies in terms of programmes. But it did say, "The ITC would have thought some regional recognition attached to the Carlton title would have been a marketing advantage."
So did Carlton have regional commitment then?
Football fans living in London didn't think so. Carlton had been criticised for repeatedly preferring to screen Manchester United's European games rather than Arsenal's. This was in contrast to Yorkshire TV, which appeared to have no problem in opting out of the network to show Leeds United games. At one point there was even a Football Fans Against Carlton web site.
What's done is done - there's nothing anyone can do now, is there?
Nothing is done that can't be undone. In September 1996, Tyne Tees television became "Channel 3 North East". Viewers complained and when the station was bought by Granada in 1997, the new owners set about reversing the change. Tyne Tees was re-instated in March 1998.
I'm all right Jack, I don't live in the Central or Westcountry regions
After reversing its decision to merge with United News & Media in July 2000, Carlton was reported to be thinking of buying up Scottish and Grampian. The company dismissed these reports as speculation. There was more speculation in 2002.
In October 2000 Carlton acquired HTV from Granada. (The sale was a condition of Granada's own merger deal with United.) Questions were apparently asked in the Welsh Assembly as to whether the identity of Wales' commercial broadcaster would be safe from the same changes that had dumped Central and Westcountry in the dustbin of TV history. For the moment, it seemed they would be.
But as we shall see, more ITV regions would be re-branded out of existence in years to come. One of them would be in Scotland...