MERIDIAN APR

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					               SOUTH AND SOUTH EAST ENGLAND:
                  MERIDIAN BROADCASTING


Summary



In many respects 1998 was a very satisfactory year for Meridian. The

regional service was popular and high quality. Nineteen new series were

introduced alongside established programmes and regionality was

improved, together with a substantial reduction in co-productions.

Although network supply fell in 1998, it included – to Meridian’s justifiable

pride – the first two of its splendid Hornblower films. The service complied

with the licence conditions.



Regional Service



News is a major part of Meridian’s regional service and high standards in

each of the separate news services in the three sub-regions were maintained.

Transport coverage was particularly strong. A significant development was

the increase in live coverage of important news and regional events in the

news magazine Meridian Tonight such as the aftermath of the Selsey

tornado. Several regional stories of national interest, such as the harrowing

trials following the murders of the Russell mother and daughter and of

Billie Jo Jenkins, were sensitively handled and impressive background

reports were broadcast on the days of the verdicts.       Meridian Tonight

regained some of the audience it lost last year in the South, remained one of
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the most widely watched regional news programmes on ITV in the South

East but lost audience share during the year in the West.



There were changes to the pattern of Meridian’s current affairs

programming. The number of editions of Meridian Focus, which enjoyed a

particularly strong year in 1997, was halved from eight to four, all

scheduled in December. The consequent gap was not entirely met by the

adaptation of the former network youth current affairs series Straight Up,

although this rated well in its five late Friday evening slots. The weekly

political programme also underwent some improvement but fewer Meridian

Focus programmes and news specials meant less investigative current

affairs overall.



Scheduling much of the varied social action programming output in peak-

time was commendable. New ideas and several neglected areas were

tackled along with more mainstream areas. Although Meridian deserves

credit for trying out new formats and wishing to broaden the appeal of

social action programmes, there was some unevenness in quality and

purpose, a view supported by the ITC’s Viewer Consultative Council

(VCC). Members Only, a late-night laddish youth series, did not warrant

classification as social action, creating a shortfall in minutage for this genre,

an important feature of Meridian’s licence application.           In future the

licensee must ensure that such programmes satisfy the criteria for social

action more clearly. An ambitious series on personal finance based on
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viewer case histories appeared, as well as a much lighter, studio-based

consumer advice series, Streetwise, the latter attracted good audiences. The

annual awareness-raising week, Spotlight, focused several excellent

programmes on the difficult subject of communication impairment,

supported by a valuable publication, one of a wide and helpful range of

programme support material from Meridian’s Community Liaison Unit,

which attracted over 75,000 viewer requests in 1998.



Fewer editions (18 rather than 24) of the highly regarded flagship arts

documentary The Pier were shown in 1998, resulting in less comprehensive

coverage of arts subjects than envisaged in the licence application. By

contrast, the low-budget youth arts and entertainment magazine Pier

Pressure was given a substantially longer run and included a greater

concentration of Brighton-based reports than in 1997. This energetic

programme attracts an important minority audience, but the ITC was

reassured to hear that there would be no further reduction in The Pier

programmes in 1999. High standards and diversity were maintained in a

new rock music series and an impressive collaboration with Southern Arts,

Taped Up, which showcased new filmmaking talent in the region. In 1997

the ITC accepted the late-night scheduling of some arts series, given repeats

at other times, but in 1998 there were too many starts around midnight. The

ITC will continue to monitor arts output closely in 1999.
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6.     Meridian’s 1998 entertainment output showed some progress with

Under Offer, a lively and well-rated panel game on regional house values:

credit is due for persisting in this difficult area of programming. Factual

and documentary output, two of Meridian’s most successful categories,

provided a wide mix of effective programmes reflecting the interests and

heritage of the region. Alongside a core of well-established series, a large

number of new programmes were introduced in a range of subject areas,

from a lonely-hearts column to the region’s coastline. Standards were high

and several series stood out, such as The Plain, a social and military history

of Salisbury Plain co-produced with HTV, and Aspinall’s Animals, a

portrait of the controversial animal conservationist and his Kent zoos. A

further increase in animal-related programmes included two series on

wildlife rescues. Wildlife SOS, a co-production with Channel 5, lacked

particular regional interest. The ITC informed Meridian that without this,

future series of Wildlife SOS would not be accepted as regional.



Regional sport included several attractive new themes in 1998, including a

regional cricket magazine and specials on major events such as the re-

opening of Goodwood motor racing circuit.            Increased documentary

programming widened the range of sporting material; much was of a very

high quality such as The Football Club, following Gillingham Football

Club over a season.
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Overall, the regional service performed well. Repeats were lower and the

level of co-productions down substantially from 10 to 6 per cent of new

programmes (excluding news). Regional independents made a valuable

contribution to the quality of the service, although the percentage of

independent productions continued to fall, to 30 per cent in 1998. There

were improvements in scheduling with less use of late evening slots, a

concern noted in the 1997 review. However use of the post-10.30 pm slot

was at its lowest level.



Network Supply



Meridian’s contribution to the network fell by 15 hours in 1998, although

its commitment to winning commissions, particularly in the factual area,

remained high. There was a trend towards the more populist end of this

genre with the light-hearted, celebrity-driven The Truth About... series,

three editions of which were supplied by Meridian. However it was

disappointing that there were fewer of the high quality single documentaries

of previous years. Meridian made a major contribution to ITV’s period

drama with its two two-hour films of Hornblower, an epic adaptation of the

Forester novels. A further two films follow in 1999. In addition, Meridian

supplied two new series for CITV (Children’s ITV) CITV), Teddy Bears

and the The Forgotten Toys.



Compliance
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There was one intervention concerning a trailer for Vice: The Sex Trade

which the ITC judged unsuitable for transmission before 9.00pm.



Technical Quality



The first two episodes of the second series of Pier Pressure were below the

technical standards required by the ITC. Meridian introduced new training

systems and higher-quality equipment, and tightened procedures to ensure

future compliance with ITC standards.

				
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