Charting ABC


ABC vs ATV in the ITV ratings war

With ABC’s limited weekly broadcasting hours, getting into a top ten or twenty of networked programmes was not easy.

In week ending 2 October 1966, ATV had the number one slot with, inevitably, ‘The London Palladium Show’. The first BBC programme – ‘Till Death us do Part’ appears at position nine. ABC’s only networked entry is at number seventeen, with ‘The Eamonn Andrews Show’. This attracted 5.65 million homes to view, according to TAM, ITV’s ratings monitor.

For week ending 8 November 1964, ‘Thank Your Lucky Stars’ with Jim Dale was ABC’s only entry into the network top twenty, at position 16 with 5.944 million homes.

So, does that mean that ABC’s programming was unpopular? Far from it. But ABC had to fight to get its programmes networked. Why? Because of ATV London.

ATV London’s relentless diet of peaktime entertainment, comedy and variety was very attractive to the regional companies. Cheap and popular, it guaranteed high ratings on a Saturday and Sunday night. Most companies (especially Tyne Tees, who could be depended on to show light entertainment at the drop of a hat) simply couldn’t afford to miss out on ATV’s offerings.

ATV ensured a take-it-or-leave-it approach by the simple mechanism of making the programmes live: there would be no second chance to get a feed of the show.

ABC, meanwhile, was turning out hour upon hour of nationally-shown material on videotape and film. The programmes were not only popular, but phenomenally popular and of a noted high quality. But they didn’t end up networked. Instead, they were shown as ‘ABC Television Network’ productions rather than ‘ABC Weekend’ productions during the week by the other companies.

If this system was bad for ABC, it was worse for Sir Lew. His ITC programmes were also sold individually and not networked, meaning popular ITC programming, including the Gerry Anderson supermarionette series, also failed to show up in the top tens.

Perhaps the system could have been made better by aggregating the showings of ABC, and ITC’s, output. But such a system would have been almost impossible to work, and would have a bad side effect. If an aggregated rating system had been used, ATV/ITC and ABC would have been neck-and-neck in the ratings. But this would have been to the detriment of the slow-and-steady ratings-earners like Granada and Rediffusion.

The American system of audience measurement – based on demographics and market shares – may have benefited ABC more than it does with the smaller stations in the US. But the process is slow and expensive, and as far as ATV, Rediffusion and Granada were concerned, it wasn’t broke so there was no point fixing it.

ABC still made a huge profit every year, so were probably not that concerned themselves.

July 1967 – Largest Television Audiences

ITV was in the midst of its ‘Golden Era’ in the middle sixties – a situation that would be dramatically reversed in the early seventies due to the costs of colour and the recession that swept in with Ted Heath’s new Government.

To illustrate who was watching what in July 1967, the ITA published the following lists of popular programmes for the month in the 1968 yearbook. The graphs show how close-fought the race for popular approval was – and how ITV held the trump cards.


Pie chart displaying breakdown of variety programmes

Most popular: ABC Weekend’s “Blackpool Show” with 6.8million homes, followed at 5.1million homes by ABC Weekend’s “Opportunity Knocks” which was not networked in 1967. ATV’s “Palladium” was not running.


Pie chart displaying breakdown of childrens programmes

Southern leads the way with “Danger Island” watched in 3.05million homes. ABC is next with the much-loved “The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe” with 3m homes. The BBC’s “Doctor Who”, “Junior Points of View” and “Boss (aka Top) Cat” finish the top 5.


Pie chart displaying breakdown of drama programmes

The most fought-over sector is lead – inevitably – by Granada with “Coronation Street” on Mondays with 7.75m homes and Wednesdays with 7.15m. The BBC offers imported drama in the form of “Perry Mason” with 6.15m and “The Man from UNCLE” with 4.45m. ABC’s offering is “Callan” at 4.3m, matched by Rediffusion’s “Sanctuary”. The BBC takes the next 3 places with “The Girl from UNCLE”, “Iron Horse” and “Daktari”, while Granada rounds off the top 10 with “The Fellows” – something gritty and northern, no doubt.


Pie chart displaying breakdown of plays

Showing that the size of the audience is not related to the resources of the production company, Anglia walks away with 7.6m homes for “The Sleeping Partner”, part of their Summer Playhouse. ATV’s Love Story series wins 6.1m for the episode “Cinema Verité”, while Rediffusion’s non-networked Half Hour Story takes 5.7m for the episode “Dead Certainty”.

ABC comes fourth with an episode from the long-running Armchair Theatre entitled “Another Branch of the Family” with 5.55m homes. The BBC take 2.75m for their unusually entitled Wednesday Play “The Lump”.


Pie chart displaying breakdown of religion-based programmes

Often the stronghold of the smaller ITV regions – the only opportunity for Border and Westward to get access to the network in some years – ATV takes the prize this time with 2.5m homes watching “Tree House Family”. ABC’s “The Song Break” makes a strong showing for this genre with 2.25m, followed by Southern’s “God’s Trombone” with 2.05m and the BBC’s “Songs of Praise” with 2m.

Scottish puts in an appearance with “The Wallace Collection” at 1.90, joint 5th with Anglia’s “Rejoice”.

About the author

Russ J Graham is editor-in-chief of the Transdiffusion Broadcasting System

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