ITV will close its 24-hour news channel

Wednesday, December 14th 2005, 9:45 am
By: News On 6

LONDON (AP) _ British broadcaster ITV PLC said Wednesday that it will close its 24-hour news channel in the new year, ending months of speculation about the future of the struggling operation.

The service, which launched in 2000 as the ITN News Channel, found it difficult to compete for viewers against strong offerings from BBC News 24 and Sky News, part of British Sky Broadcasting Group PLC, a satellite broadcaster part-owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp.

ITN spokeswoman Kathryn Holland said that ITN would stop broadcasting at the end of January, with the loss of up to 70 jobs.

Holland said the closure was not a reflection on the quality of ITN news, after a year of ``good scoops and very high-profile exclusives,'' but was instead a ``commercial decision'' taken amid the rising cost of distribution.

She added that ITV was committed to providing a strong news bulletin via its core broadcasting channels and that the closure of the 24-hour channel would allow ITV to invest an extra 2 million pounds ($3.5 million) to create news bulletins for its ITV2 and ITV3 channels.

The funding would also cover the opening of a news bureau in Beijing, expanded news coverage from the north of Britain, strengthened regional news teams and improved new media news coverage.

It added that it would set up a ``breaking news team,'' ready to broadcast open-ended news coverage if necessary.

Simon Shaps, the director of television for ITV, said the broadcaster was preparing to offer news services in different ways to meet viewer demand.

``The question we have asked ourselves is what does news look like in five or 10 years' time? The answer is that it looks very different from the traditional 24-hour rolling news format that we are used to now,'' Shaps said.

``Increasingly, viewers will want news on demand via a variety of different platforms and we are investing in the technology and expertise to deliver that.''

Doubts about the future of the ITN News Channel were raised last month when its hours on the popular Freeview service were cut to accommodate the new ITV4 channel. ITV plans to use Freeview to launch a children's channel in February. Freeview is a free-to-air digital TV service jointly owned by the British Broadcasting Corp., Sky, ITV and other shareholders.

Paul McLaughlin, a spokesman for the National Union of Journalists, said the organization would hold an emergency meeting about the plans. McLaughlin was dismissive of ITV's plans to improve its core news service.

``Given ITN had less resources than BBC and Sky, they were often punching above their weight,'' he said. ``They clearly have no regard for quality news going forward.''