News At When?

You have to hand it to ITV News. The refreshed News at Ten, featuring a single anchor in the form of Tom Bradby, appears to have been a ratings success, at least so far. The Press Gazette quotes a Times article suggesting that the flagship bulletin is pulling in half a million more viewers month on month.

Bradby has also introduced a style of writing and delivery which has divided opinion among industry observers. Stories are much more personalised, the language relaxed. Some dislike it for being too informal. The reality is that the format is lifted straight from the US networks, where the news anchor is a trusted source, welcomed into your home to give his (because it’s usually a he) take on current events.

Time will tell when it comes to the ratings. The increase for October could just be a seasonal blip. But it’s also sent media watchers into the well trodden territory of part speculation and part myth.

Is Tom Bradby really giving the BBC cause for concern?
Is Tom Bradby really giving the BBC cause for concern?

The Times has playfully suggested that the BBC is “considering a revamp” of its own News at Ten, linking it to the apparent early success of Tom. It’s a convenient headline, except it isn’t quite true.

It’s no secret that the BBC has been “considering” changes for about a year now. In the run up to the General Election, the “Ten” was extended to 45 minutes, including a longer late night regional news opt. It was, management insisted at the time, “a trial” with a twofold purpose; to enhance coverage leading up to the Election and to see whether shifting journalistic and technical resources to late nights would pay dividends in the ratings.

It was largely a success, though the trial promptly ended after the Election, a rarity in broadcasting innovations. “Trials” are often termed as such to appease staff, who are naturally (and fairly) resistant to having their shifts suddenly moved four hours forward. All of which was documented at the time.

So what’s likely to happen now? Has the BBC suddenly been spurred on by the threat posed by ITV? Will it jump to a rapid conclusion. Well, no. Again, it’s no secret that there’s a desire to extend the “Ten’s” running time, though it has to be considered against two key factors; namely Newsnight on BBC Two and the newspaper review on the BBC News Channel. Common sense would suggest that the latter is simply merged with BBC One.

What’s clear is that ITV appears to have finally seen the light – and the benefit – of having a distinct product at 10pm – and with no Champion’s League to worry about this season, the regular slot should stay in place.

Personally I think it’s great to have a warm and relatable show within the viewing choice. A strong rival keeps the BBC on its toes, but doesn’t, alone, dictate how it behaves.

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