Britain's ITC Sends ‘MayDay’ Call to Salvage ITV Digital

10 April 2002

Various powerful interests – among them the UK government, the BBC, the Independent Television Commission and Rupert Murdoch’s BSkyB – are fearful that the near-bankrupt ITV Digital could drag down with it the rest of the nation’s torch-bearing digital television sector.

For markedly differing reasons, all are anxious that Britain's sole terrestrial digital service should keep afloat in whatever guise; and the ITC is understood to have conducted soundings with several broadcasters including BSkyB as to how to maintain the UK’s position as world leader in digital television.

But ITVd’s two shareholders, Carlton Communications and Granada Media, are said to be less than euphoric over the ITC’s unilateral decision to approach BSkyB – whose aggressive ‘giveaway’ tactics they believe have led to the imminent demise of their baby.

The approach to Sky has triggered speculation that Rupert Murdoch could be on the verge of achieving his ambition to grab a slice of UK terrestrial television. ITVd might also appeal to the mogul as a way of pre-empting the expected tightening of cross-media ownership restrictions in the upcoming Communications Bill.

Said an ITVd source: “We would be horrified … that Sky might be allowed to benefit so directly from a long history of anticompetitive practices.”

Meantime, back at the ranch …

Joy is not unconfined at the mainstream ITV network which, according to unofficial overnights, achieved its lowest-ever ratings of just 300,000 – three per cent of the total audience. The forty-seven year nadir was reached last Saturday afternoon when it confronted BBC1’s coverage of the classic Grand National horse race. This conferred on ITV1 the dubious distinction of being the least watched of all five UK national terrestrial networks.

Although the unpalatable data has yet to be confirmed, the Saturday slump is a timely reminder to director of channels David Liddiment that ITV cannot indulge for much longer its luxury of the last forty-seven years – taking its impregnability for granted.

Data sourced from:; additional content by WARC staff