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ITV bolsters evening news to fight Piers Morgan threat

·3-min read
Piers Morgan Rupert Murdoch - Paul Edwards/News UK
Piers Morgan Rupert Murdoch - Paul Edwards/News UK

ITV will extend its evening bulletin to an hour as it faces a new challenge from Piers Morgan on Rupert Murdoch's new channel TalkTV.

Britain's biggest commercial broadcaster will transform its 6.30pm update into an hour-long show from March, marking its biggest expansion in news for 20 years and a significant shake-up of its prime-time schedule.

The multimillion-pound investment will pay for 27 new journalists, including correspondents across Wales, Scotland and the north of England, as it deepens its coverage outside of London.

The move comes as the broadcaster awaits the Spring launch of TalkTV, a new broadcast channel run by Mr Murdoch's newspaper publisher News UK.

It hired Mr Morgan, 56, after he angrily walked off the set of ITV's flagship current affairs show Good Morning Britain last March. The former editor of the News of the World was challenged on-air by a colleague for criticising claims of poor mental health made by the Duchess of Sussex.

Senior Good Morning Britain production staff have since followed Mr Morgan to TalkTV, where has been handed star billing in the evening schedule and a lucrative global contract.

Mr Murdoch will once again attempt to prise viewers away from traditional broadcasters with hourly news bulletins, sports, entertainment and current affairs shows. It marks a return to UK television for the 90-year-old media mogul following the 2018 takeover of Sky by the US cable operator Comcast, including his 30pc stake.

ITV said the changes to its schedule reflect strong audiences for its evening news, which hit its highest share of viewers for a decade last year. Some 3.2m viewers - a 21pc share - tuned in for the show presented by Mary Nightingale.

The expansion of ITV News will mean the soaps Coronation Street and Emmerdale must make way. The former will move to hour-long episodes at 8pm on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, while the latter shifts from 7pm to 7.30pm.

Michael Jeremy, the director of news and current affairs at ITV, said the investment showed there is still life in traditional television.

"What has changed is just how resilient news audiences have been over the past decade. Twenty years ago, some people said the bulletin on the big channels would die over time because people would watch news channels, or just go to digital.

"The interesting thing is the first part of that hasn't happened. But as more and more people get news digitally throughout the day, the audience in that 6 to 7 news hour have been holding up."

It comes against the backdrop of the government's potential sale of Channel 4, with ITV keen to demonstrate its commitment to public service broadcasting ahead of a potential bid.

ITV is in the middle of renewing its broadcasting licence that guarantees it a prominent position on the channel guides in exchange for investing in public service content, such as news, current affairs and regional programming.

It warned last year that it would not remain in the PSB system "at any price" if new laws failed to prevent the broadcaster being squeezed off the streaming menus on smart TVs by Netflix and Disney+.

ITV News has been enjoying a strong run. Its veteran broadcaster Robert Moore scooped awards for his coverage of the American Capitol Hill riots, while UK editor Paul Brand has attracted plaudits for exclusive stories on Downing Street parties during lockdown.

TV news remains a strong draw for traditional broadcasters as they face a battle to prevent viewers from switching over to streaming apps during the peak evening hours.

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