Yelling at the Television: How Viewer Feedback Helped to Shape Sport on ITV
06 Nov 2017, 17:15 to 06 Nov 2017, 19:15
Sport and Leisure History
IHR Past and Present Room, N202, Second Floor, IHR, Senate House, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HU
Gareth Edwards , De Montfort University
Independent Television launched in 1955. From its inception, ITV struggled to compete with the sports coverage offered by the BBC. In part, this reflected the established position of a rival that coupled long-standing connections with sports administrators and innovations in technology and format. It also reflected the problems inherent in the network’s composition. The regional structure made it almost impossible to secure the type of national broadcast deals required to televise sports, and this fragmentation prevented the economies of scale available to the BBC. The lack of a centralised sports unit – eventually remedied in the late 1960s – ensured sports programming was sporadic at best. Only in the 1970s and 1980s did ITV begin to establish its reputation as a sports broadcaster.
One further factor, however, helped to shape sports broadcasting on ITV. Viewers regularly contacted the network – and its regulators – to offer their opinions on televised sports. This paper explores how ITV took this feedback seriously and the manner in which it sometimes acted as a catalyst for changes to how and when sport was broadcast on the channel. Increasingly ITV sought to examine what the viewers thought. In 1978, the Independent Broadcasting Association conducted analysis of audience reaction to coverage of the FIFA World Cup; by the mid-1980s, its successor, the Independent Television Authority, would use similar surveys to help inform sports policy for the channel.
While relatively minor in comparison to the political and economic factors that structured the network’s output, viewer feedback played an important role in shaping sports broadcasting on ITV.
Gareth Edwards is currently undertaking a PhD on the history of sport on commercial television between 1955 and 1992 at the International Centre for Sports History and Culture at De Montfort University. He is also an Associate Lecturer in Sports Journalism at the London College of Communication, University of the Arts, London.
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