Before 1970 the Authority had on a number of occasions considered the possibility of a second ITV service. The first reference to the desirability of there being two services was made in 1955 in the Authority’s first Annual Report. Then, in the first half of the 1960s, there were further expressions of interest in the subject both from the Authority’s side and from the Government’s. In its White Paper of December 1962 the Government of the day, in deferring any decision to authorise a second ITA programme, said that it still felt such a programme might prove to be desirable in order to allow full scope for Independent Television to offer more selection to viewers and to experiment. Up to this stage, the assumption was being made by the Authority and by Government that both services would operate on a competitive basis and be run by different people.
In the White Paper of December 1966, the Government of the day announced that there would be no allocation of frequencies to a fourth television service for the following three years at any rate. In 1969 there were informal discussions with the Post Office about the possibility of ITV 2, but these were not pursued because of the serious financial position of Independent Television in that year. The Authority continued to hope, however, that a second service could be authorised which would, by giving ITV the same opportunities as the BBC had had since 1964, lead to a situation of parity, both of competition for the viewers and of ability to offer them a full range of programming, between the two separate public services of television in the United Kingdom.
In 1970 the Authority and its Policy Committee gave fresh consideration to the question of ITV 2. For it was clear that, apart from the need for ITV to have sufficient funds for the provision of the best possible programmes (a need which led to representations about the Levy and to the Government’s decision in this matter), the most important requirement of Independent Television was that it should be enabled to offer a wider range of service. Restricted hours and a single channel lead to frustrations for the viewer who wants the same range on ITV as he can obtain from the BBC’s two channels, and frustration for the programme maker whose chance of innovating and of providing for particular audiences is much reduced by the constraints of a single channel. ITV is obliged, as it were, to cater for readers of The Guardian, The Express, and The Mirror, within the confines of a single channel. It seemed to the Authority that the removal of these constraints was, together with a derestriction of the permitted hours of broadcasting, essential if ITV was to improve and broaden its service during the 1970s in the way that the Authority wished.
In the course of its discussions, the Authority dwelt particularly on the following points:
If the service given by ITV was to be broadened and was to cater for a number of interests which we try not to neglect but which we cannot serve as adequately as we would wish, then the second service must be complementary to the first and not competitive with it. All the evidence suggested that competitive programming did not enlarge the range of choice: indeed, it tended to narrow it. Competition has its own advantages in sharpening effort and increasing attention to what the viewer wants; but this sharpness has already been brought into television by competition between ITV and BBC.
ITV is already equipped with more facilities than the BBC and with a more disparate collection of creative enterprises. This is due to its deliberate decision to provide a federal and regional structure for Independent Television’s service. But the result is an amount of programme production which, while consistent with the regional structure, is in total more than is needed for a minimum single-service output. Potentially, there exist the means of providing between two and three times the amount of material that a single channel requires. It is therefore plain that any expansion of the service, relying (as it will have to rely) on quite small expansion in income, must make use of potential within the present structure for the most part, and not expect to duplicate that structure. The existence of this reserve meant that the Authority could look forward past the financial problems that then existed to a situation in which quite a small improvement in resources might make it possible to start planning for a second channel.
Since the Authority neither produces programmes nor sells advertising, the next step was to discuss with the companies actually producing the programmes of Independent Television such matters as the likelihood of additional revenue from ITV 2, what a complementary service might mean in terms of programme categories, what the extent and location of surplus studios were, and the scope that there would be for increased regional opportunities in a two-service situation. The Authority therefore decided to set up a joint working party of members of the Standing Consultative Committee, drawn both from the Authority’s staff and from the representatives of companies. This working party had six meetings between May and November 1971.
It also seemed right, in a matter of such importance for the future of Independent Television, that the views of those working in the industry should be canvassed in a more general way. The Authority therefore decided to ask for ideas from within ITV generally, and from trade unions and societies with relevant membership, and to have these discussed at a Consultation towards the end of the year. In order that this discussion could be frank and positive, we decided that it should not be a public debate attended by the Press. The result of this arrangement was that a large number of questions were considered in fair detail and a range of useful views expressed by those who had experience of the working of Independent Television at all levels.
The Authority also invited the views of its General Advisory Council and its Educational Advisory Council; during its discussions, it has also learnt, through information gained by membership of the European Broadcasting Union and through staff visits, of the experience of other countries which have more than one broadcasting service. In addition, it has taken account of the views of bodies representing the advertising industry, as given both in informal discussions and through the Press, and it has also received the views of a number of programme producers from outside Independent Television. These contacts, together with the Authority’s interest in the current Press discussion of this and other aspects of the future of broadcasting, mean that it has considered the various implications of any proposals for ITV 2.
Although the proposals are now being put forward after the collection and examination of a wide range of views and data the Authority has accepted from the outset that it is for Government to set the proposals in perspective and to take a decision.