Television South: Wikis

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Television South
TVS Last logo.PNG
TVS Logo, used 1989-1992 - another lighter blue version was used 1987-1989
Based in Northam, Southampton and Vinters Park, Maidstone
Broadcast area South and South East England
Launched 1 January 1982
TVS original logo used 1982-1987
TVS original logo, 2 versions used 1982-1987, unveiled on-air in 1981
Closed 31 December 1992
Replaced Southern Television
Replaced by Meridian Broadcasting

Television South (TVS) was the broadcasting name associated with the ITV franchise holder in the south and south east of England between 1 January 1982 and 23:59 on 31 December 1992. The company operated under various names, initially as Television South plc and then following reorganisation in 1989 as TVS Entertainment plc, with its UK broadcasting arm referred to as TVS Television plc. On-air the company was known as TVS, Television South and eventually TVS Television.

TVS's coverage area coincided only partly with that of the present-day South East England government region, as it did not include the Oxford transmitter region (Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire), which was instead covered by the ITV Midlands licencee.

Broadcasting commenced in 1982 following takeover of the franchise from Southern Television during the review of franchise holders in 1980. During their 11 year history, TVS produced a number of notable programmes for the ITV network including C.A.T.S. Eyes and The Ruth Rendell Mysteries, and challenged the monopoly of ITV’s ‘Big Five’ companies (Granada, Yorkshire, Central, Thames and LWT) in controlling the allocation of primetime networked programming slots, although access was ultimately denied. They were a significant regional broadcaster producing a wide range of programmes for the region, with the flagship being the nightly award winning news programme Coast to Coast produced as two separate editions for the south and south east.

They ceased broadcasting on 31 December 1992 after they lost the franchise to Meridian Broadcasting during the review of franchise holders in 1991. The company was sold to International Family Entertainment Inc. (IFE) in 1993 (now Disney subsidiary ABC Family Worldwide Inc.).

Contents

1980 Franchise Review

TVS was formed to apply for the franchise for South and South-East of England under the working title of South and South-East Communications Limited, following discussions between James Gatward (a television producer), Bob Southgate (a television executive who had previously worked at ITN and Thames Television) and Martin Jackson (a journalist). Finance was provided by Barclays Bank and the investment bank Charterhouse. The franchise for this area was the most hotly-contested with seven other applicants besides TVS and the incumbent, Southern.

The company's Chief Executive was Lord Boston of Faversham assisted by James Gatward as Managing Director. James Gatward had been a former drama producer at Southern. Director of Programmes was Michael Blakstad, a former producer of BBC’s Tomorrow’s World and Head of Children’s Programming was Anna Home.

The Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA) decided to review the franchises in 1980, with the changeover in franchise holders (where applicable) occurring on 1 January 1982. At the changeover, the IBA had decided to change the area covered from the south to include the south east and included the Bluebell Hill transmitter, associated relays and the main relay at Tunbridge Wells which previously were covered by ITV’s London contractors. To reflect this the contract area served by Southern Television, which was previously titled the South of England area was renamed South and South-East of England. In order to serve the new region better the IBA expected the successful applicant to operate separate facilities for both the south and the south-east (known as a dual-region), with new additional facilities to be built in the latter.

Following submission of their application, TVS were anticipating that they would be forced into a shotgun marriage with Southern Television, but won outright since their plans for a better mix of programmes and greater investment were considered good enough to operate the franchise alone. This was the official line given by the IBA, but it was also considered that Southern’s non-local ownership (the majority shareholders were companies based in London and Dundee) and their very conservative nature led to it being dropped in favour the more interesting proposals made by TVS in their franchise application.

Studio Facilities

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Northam, Southampton

The first commercial television studios for the newly-created South of England franchise were founded in Northam Road, Southampton by Southern Television when they were awarded the licence to broadcast in the south of England in 1957. The studios were originally the Plaza Cinema, and the building was selected for the new venture as the owner, the Rank Organisation, was a large shareholder in the new broadcaster. In 1967, and with the introduction of colour television in 1969, Southern built new, larger studios adjacent to the original development on land reclaimed from the River Itchen. These were the facilities purchased by TVS (and later Meridian): TVS were delayed in the purchase of the site by Southern and therefore had to initially operate prior to launch from portakabins in the Southern car park, leading to Southern contemptuously naming them Portakabin TV, as referenced in a satirical song performed by Richard Stilgoe on Southern's final programme. TVS finally completed the purchase of the Southampton site, equipment, news library and staff pension fund in August 1981. Also included in the sale was land purchased by Southern for planned new studios in Maidstone.

The Southampton base was the company's corporate headquarters and their primary production and transmission centre. Upon purchase TVS made significant investment, building a further studio to the rear of the existing site. TVS, when it lost its franchise bid, sold the studios to their successor Meridian in 1992 as part of an asset disposal designed to raise enough revenues to stay afloat to the end of the licence period.

After 11 years of (slowly declining) production at the site, in 2004, Meridian relocated to new and more modern, rented facilities on the Solent Business Park at Whiteley near Fareham. It is believed they had originally intended to be based here from the beginning of their licence period but decided instead to purchase the existing studios from TVS. The Southampton site is now derelict and earmarked for demolition and re-development (for housing) although it is unclear as to whether the site has actually been sold. The former studios were recently being used for secure lorry/truck storage. Demolition commenced in the summer of 2008 with the arrival of an asbestos removal company (The building contains considerable amounts of asbestos in the form of sound proofing and pipe insulation). Reports suggest that as the land was reclaimed from the river (and is essentially a flood plain) and also that unknown types of waste from the nearby shipyard was used to stabilise the site, it is struggling to achieve offers that match its supposed value. Plans for new homes on the site have also yet to be formally approved by the city council.[citation needed]

Vinters Park, Maidstone

The studios to serve the south-eastern section of Television South's transmission area were at Vinters Park near Maidstone in Kent.

The site was originally acquired by Southern Television who had commissioned a conceptual design for new studio facilities on the site. Following the award of the franchise to TVS, Southern sold the site to the new company at a premium.

Construction commenced in early 1982 and the first studios at the centre became operational in mid-1983. During the construction period, TVS served the south-eastern part of their area from the former Southern studios at Southampton and Dover (the latter closing when facilities at Maidstone became operational - see below).

The Maidstone Studios, though significant (and home to many networked shows) were ancillary to those in Southampton which were the company's corporate headquarters. Meridian, the new licensee, were not offered the studios as TVS initially intended to become an independent producer in 1993, however Meridian agreed to rent the newsroom and facilities for an initial 10 year period. However following the sale of TVS in 1993, the studios were acquired by TVS’s new owners IFE and Meridian's agreement came to a premature end. A newsroom and studio for the south east was subsequently set up on an industrial estate near New Hythe. Meridian have since returned to the site and use it as a news base as today they broadcast mainly from Hampshire.

Dover

The studios, on Russell Street, were originally the south-eastern base of Southern Television from which Scene South East and Scene Midweek were broadcast, and were essentially a news gathering operation with transmission facilities for regional news opt-outs. TVS used Dover as a regional studio for a year until completion of Vinters Park when they disposed of the site. The buildings have since been demolished and the site is now used as a car park.

TVS Television Theatre

TVS acquired the former Plaza Cinema in Gillingham, Kent as a stop gap measure between the commencement of broadcasting and the completion of Vinters Park. The theatre was quickly converted for television use ready for the start of broadcasting.

The decision to operate a television theatre was against the trend in television at that time (Both the BBC and Thames Television were to dispose of similar facilities in the next two years).

Production at Gillingham was limited. It was used for several quiz shows and it was the base of the regional afternoon magazine show Not for Women Only and TVS filmed the UK inserts for Fraggle Rock there. TVS sold the theatre in 1988. For a period afterwards the site was used for other activities before being demolished to make way for redevelopment. A campaign to have it listed failed as the large-scale conversion for television production had made it unsuitable for listing.

Regional Offices

TVS maintained sales offices in London and Manchester and several smaller offices throughout their region.

The Broadcasting Years

TVS began broadcasting at 09:25 on 1 January 1982. The new dual-regional station sprang to life with its new especially composed startup music - variously named but referred to in-house as TVS Gallop, accompanied by a programme menu and clock. Continuity announcer Malcolm Brown, previously an announcer at Granada, made the opening announcement:

"Good morning. It's New Year's Day 1982, and this is Television South. TVS, the new independent television company that's proud to serve both the South and South East of England. To begin with, we bring in the new with for the first time our symbol which will soon become very familiar."

Following the first airing of the station's first ident, the first programme to air was a Coast to Coast special entitled Bring in the New, presented by Khalid Aziz. A number of presenters made the transition from Southern to TVS. All production staff were transferred as part of the then union agreements within ITV that no technician should lose employment as a result of franchise changes. 200 staff were also recruited for the facilities at Gillingham and Maidstone although a small number of these were made redundant after the company went on-air as the studios struggled to reach production capacity, restricted by TVS's limited access to the ITV network.

TVS was soon recognised as an ambitious company (in contrast to the rather staid Southern) that wanted to be a 'major player' within ITV and not be just a large regional company. At that time, networked programme schedules were agreed by a committee with representatives from the ‘Big Five’ ITV companies Thames, LWT, Central, Yorkshire and Granada. The rationale was that the larger ITV companies should bear more of the production costs as their size enabled them to.

This led to criticism in some quarters that the larger of the remaining 'regional' ITV companies (TVS, Anglia, STV, Tyne Tees and HTV) found it difficult to get network access for their grander productions, or that they were left with softer non-primetime sectors, such as children's and religious television.

TVS attempted to get the 'Big Five' turned into the 'Big Six', as during the mid-1980s its revenues were greater than those of Yorkshire Television, and often equal to those of LWT. The attempt failed (although TVS did form an alliance with LWT which enabled some of its shows to obtain primetime network status). Ultimately, in the 1990 Broadcasting Act the 'Big Five' committee was replaced with an independent ITV Network Centre.

Programming

Regional programming was a key part of TVS's commitments to the IBA. TVS's News Service covered the entire dual region - a vast swathe of the South and South East of England. Two entirely separate editions of the TVS nightly regional news programme Coast to Coast were developed to produce daily news coverage across the area. Both the South and South East editions won the Royal Television Society's awards for the Best News Programme of the Year, in 1983 (South East edition), and in 1989 and 1991 (South edition).

Apart from news, TVS produced a vast array of programming in-house including regional gardening (That's Gardening), business (Enterprise South), farming (Farm Focus), investigative current affairs (Facing South) and light entertainment (Off the Record). An award winning title was the Country Ways series, which examined the people and places of the region and continued in production for ITV Meridian until 2008.

TVS also innovated with the experimental Afternoon Club, a dedicated programme encompassing a number of afternoon soap operas, quiz shows etc linked by general chat and guests etc. They also produced their own afternoon magazine show Not for Women Only. The station was also instrumental in providing separate non-news programmes for the South, South East and Thames Valley areas including the chat show Coast to Coast People and the listings guide This Way Out.

In common with their predecessor, TVS had a strong performance in children's programming. Early successes included Saturday morning show No. 73 which was later networked, On Safari (TVS's first pre-transmission production), The Witches and the Grinnygog, Fraggle Rock, The Boy Who Won the Pools, Get Fresh, and Knights of God. Later successes included Motormouth, The Storyteller, TUGS, How 2, Finders Keepers and Art Attack.

As they became established TVS made significant contributions to network drama (through their tie-up with LWT) with shows such as the detective series C.A.T.S. Eyes. The production of the Inspector Wexford Mysteries (1987-1992), television adaptations of Ruth Rendell's novels, proved to be a success with over fifteen programmes being made over a ten-year period.

TVS also provided a number of networked factual and science-based programs including In The Mouth of the Dragon and The Real World which, for the first time in the UK, broadcast in 3D (the glasses were made available via the TV Times).

Light Entertainment programming included a number of series starring Bobby Davro, Ultra Quiz, Catchphrase, Concentration, Summertime Special and the sitcoms Perfect Scoundrels and That's Love.

MTM Entertainment

TVS's franchise in a prosperous area generated large profits. Restrictions on network programming resulted in the search for non-television investments. Speculative small investments in UK companies were followed by the purchase of the American media company MTM Enterprises, founded by Mary Tyler Moore and responsible for many US hit shows including Hill Street Blues. MTM specialised in the syndicated television market (programmes made independently and sold to the major American television networks). Television South was renamed TVS Television in 1989.

TVS was banking on benefiting from this syndicated market and so borrowed heavily to finance the £190 million purchase with the expectation of huge financial rewards. The purchase initially boosted TVS profits, but a faltering US economy lead to a downturn in US television fortunes.

By 1989, uncertainty over the high price paid by TVS for MTM led to its share price falling in October 1989. TVS was also failing to secure network slots for its programming and they axed 200 jobs in Northam and Maidstone. As it entered the 1990’s, TVS's fortunes were poor and this would have an impact upon its chances of retaining its franchise when it came up for renewal in 1991.

The 1991 franchise battle

In 1990 a new Broadcasting Act was passed by Parliament, which deregulated broadcasting in the UK and removed the monopoly on programme production held by franchise holders. Changes to network broadcasting and the introduction of cable and satellite channels meant that ITV needed to be leaner and fitter to compete with its new rivals.

The Act saw the replacement of the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA) by the Independent Television Commission (ITC). The Act also changed the rules for the allocation of ITV franchises: In previous franchise battles, incumbents were judged on track record and future plans while new applicants were judged on potential and financial backing.

Incumbents and new applicants still had to undergo this examination but now also had to submit a cash bid, payable annually, via a single sealed bid based on what they valued the contract at. One other change made was that applicants no longer had to own production facilities or produce shows in-house, allowing them to become publisher-broadcasters and opening up the ITV network to independent producers.

The original draft of the Broadcasting Act stated that the applicant with the highest cash bid would win; however following fears that this would financially stretch the network and diminish programme standards the concept of a 'quality threshold' was introduced. Incumbents and applicants had to pass this first before cash bids were even considered; even then if a cash bid was deemed to impact on plans the application could be rejected.

TVS passed the quality threshold - indeed, as the incumbent broadcaster it could hardly have failed to do as failure would have called the ITC's own regulatory regime into question. The lucrative nature of the TVS contract area made it one of the most desirable franchises in the UK. Despite preparing vast amounts of audience research, programming proposals and an extremely comprehensive application document for the ITC, the TVS board - now minus its founder James Gatward - calculated that it needed to outbid all opposition in order to retain its licence. This resulted in the "bid high or die" strategy - in which the management calculated the highest possible bid that TVS could possibly afford. The result of these calculations was a massive £59 million per annum payable for the next ten years. It was the highest bid ever made by any UK television broadcaster.

The ITC announced the results of the franchise battle by releasing simultaneous faxes to the contending companies. Two companies had passed the so-called programme "quality threshold" - TVS and Meridian Broadcasting. Of these two TVS's bid was the higher - and therefore should automatically have been awarded the licence for the South and South East of England. However the ITC asserted that there was now a third criterion, a requirement that the ITC could confidently expect the winning company to sustain its annual payments throughout the entire period of the 10 year licence. The ITC used this new criterian to foot-fault TVS and claimed that the company would not be able to sustain the proposed £59 million a year licence payments. The ITC then awarded the licence to Meridian Broadcasting who had bid only £36million per year.

The ITC refused every attempt to get it to explain its decision. Eventually on 7 November 1991 the issue was raised on the floor of the House of Commons:-

Dame Janet Fookes: Can my right hon. Friend answer a riddle for me? How is it that Television South passed the quality threshold, offered by far the most money but still lost?
Mr. Baker: That is a riddle for the ITC, not me, to answer. The ITC made the determination and it would be inappropriate for me to comment upon the matter, especially as I believe that it is now sub judice, because the company has applied for judicial review."

But although TVS had said it would consider a judicial review the legal advice that it received was that the prospect of success would be slim and the costs would be enormous. Whilst it carried on broadcasting to the end of its franchise period it began partially liquidating the company. The studio facilities at Southampton were sold to the incoming franchise winners Meridian Broadcasting - even though Meridian had said they intended to operate as a "publisher broadcaster" and would not be making anything like the amount of regional programming made by TVS. The Maidstone Studios were to be retained with the news facility being leased to Meridian as TVS planned to continue trading as an independent producer.

The unions started to negotiate with Meridian to absorb some of the 800 TVS staff facing redundancy as Meridian only planned to employ 370 staff as they intended to produce a far smaller amount of network programming and would use independent producers for the remainder of its programming.

It was ironic indeed that, in the event, the projections of advertising revenue on which TVS had based its massive bid turned out to be correct. However, only three years later, all the high-bidding licensees - including HTV which had virtually bankrupted itself to put forward a massive £25 million bid to win the Wales and West licence - were allowed to reduce their licence payments in some cases by more than half.

Closing night

TVS ceased broadcasting to the south and south east of England at just before midnight on 31st December 1992.

While most other ITV stations were broadcasting Thames' farewell programme The End of the Year Show, TVS chose to opt-out and air its own final programme entitled Goodbye to All That, a retrospective of TVS's programming presented by Fred Dinenage and Fern Britton, pre-recorded in front of a studio audience earlier in the day.

The programme closed with an amended version of TVS' last main ident (along with the message 'Thanks for watching'), before crossing to Big Ben for the New Year chimes at midnight.

After 1992

TVS Entertainment was sold on 1 February 1993 to the American Company International Family Entertainment Inc. (IFE). Later that year in September, IFE launched a UK version of The Family Channel based in The Maidstone Studios and using some elements of the TVS programme archive. Flextech were a partner in the venture, taking a 39% stake in the business.[1]

In 1996 IFE sold its remaining 61% share to Flextech[2], giving them full ownership of the venture, and subsequently in March 1997 Flextech rebranded the channel to Challenge TV, focusing mainly on game shows. Meanwhile, also in 1997, IFE was sold to Fox Kids Worldwide, which in turn was acquired by Disney in 2001. As a result, most of the TVS archive is now in their hands, although much of it is understood to be largely inaccessible due to the paperwork detailing programme contributors, rights agreements, etc, having been lost in the intervening years. [3] [4]

In 2006 the name "Television South Ltd", "TVS" and the colour logo device were transferred and re-registered at the Trademarks Office to lighting cameraman Keith Jacobsen, and TVS now trades as an independent production company.

References

External links


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