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Grade hints at ITV region restructure

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ITV executive chairman Michael Grade has indicated that ITV1's network of regional franchises dating back to the start of independent television in 1955 could be radically overhauled in order to achieve better value for money.

Speaking at Ofcom's nations and regions conference in Cardiff, Grade said that larger regions achieve better ratings and claimed that the existence of some regions such as Border and Anglia no longer made sense relative to the audiences they served.

"In some areas, that is not a problem: the map still makes sense," Grade explained. "Wales is clearly one such case, as are the other nations.

"But elsewhere, the boundaries bear little relationship to regional and community identities on the ground. Four ITV regional programmes cover around half the English population. The other 50% are served by another 12 programmes and further sub-regional [programmes] to boot.

"It is not clear that this level of complexity and specificity is delivering maximum value for ITV viewers. It is actually some of our larger regions that have been performing most strongly in ratings and quality terms over recent years."

Fifteen companies are licensed to provide a service on Channel 3 in the UK. Of those, 11 are owned by ITV plc and it has been many years since regional identities were seen on-screen in areas served by the company. Surviving regional identities include STV in Scotland and UTV in Northern Ireland. With most of the network now owned by ITV plc there are few remaining elements of federalism in the operation of ITV1 and streamlining has been expected for some time. However, on a legal basis, ITV still consists of Ofcom-awarded regional licences, each with specific public service stipulations.

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