The ITV System

The Independent Television Authority (ITA) was created in August 1954 to provide “for the period of ten years television broadcasting services, additional to those of the British Broadcasting Corporation . . . for so much of the United Kingdom, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands as may from time to time be reasonably practicable”.

In accordance with the requirements of the Television Act 1954, the Authority builds, owns and operates the television transmitting stations. It selects and appoints the contractors to provide programmes for transmission from these stations. The contractors (more generally known as the programme companies) pay the Authority a rental related to the population coverage of the station or stations for which they provide programmes. They meet the cost of their ITA rentals, the cost of providing programmes and of their operations generally from advertising revenues. The Authority’s further duty is to ensure that the programmes provided are in accordance with the terms of the Act, and that the advertising transmitted is strictly controlled. Neither the Authority nor the companies draw any income from licence fees or other public funds.

The Nature of the System

The structure created by the Authority within the general framework laid down by the Television Act constitutes an entirely new combination of public and private initiative. In contrast to the unitary organisation with regional branches developed by the BBC, the Television Act requires the appointment of “a number of programme companies independent of each other both as to finance and control”. Moreover, Section 5(2) of the Act lays down that “It shall be the duty of the Authority to do all that they can to secure that there is adequate competition to supply programmes between a number of programme contractors independent of each other both as to finance and as to control”.

Only the existence of two directly competing companies in each service area could fully secure “adequate competition”. However, the frequencies which the Authority was granted were sufficient only to enable it to cover the whole country with a single network of stations. The Authority might have introduced direct competition in certain of its areas by building two stations, but only at the cost of leaving other areas without even one ITA service. The Authority therefore decided that while the limitations on its frequencies continued, it must use them to give national coverage by a single network.

Given one service only, the Authority had to choose the broad pattern of programme contracting which it would adopt. The fundamental choice was between a “unitary” system with a single programme company based in London providing programmes for the whole network of stations, and a plural system of separate programme companies for the individual areas of the country. There were sound social arguments for the appointment of separate companies to serve individual stations, and particularly for the communities outside London to be served by independently conducted programme companies rather than operated merely as satellites of a central group of London companies. The Authority, at the beginning of its life in 1954, therefore chose to adopt the plural form of organisation and has steadily pursued this policy ever since.


The adoption of a plural system did not of itself provide full competition to “supply programmes”, nor could it deny a programme company a local monopoly of viewers on the days for which it provided programmes. The Authority therefore sought from the beginning to introduce other competitive elements into the system. To avoid a London monopoly by one company there emerged the plan of enlarging the base from London to include, as well as the capital, the North and the Midlands and of appointing a total of four companies to serve this enlarged area. This was achieved by the division of the concession in each of the three areas into two parts, the weekdays and the weekends, and the creation of a mosaic of companies, stations, and days in a pattern which would support four independent companies.

The production of television programmes of national appeal demands large resources in the right places. It is no accident that networking – the supply of programmes for national use from some central source – is a common feature of broadcasting systems of all types in all the countries of the world. Effective television requires a high degree of specialisation in such programme categories as drama, light entertainment and variety, documentary programmes, sport, current affairs, children’s programmes, religious programmes and school programmes. And specialisation in any of these fields is practicable only when production is large enough to permit it. The distinctive features of Independent Television are not that it has a “network”, but that the supply of the main body of national programmes is provided by four separate companies, each of the four large enough to hold its own with the others, rather than originating from a single organisation; and that outside the most populous areas, programmes are provided by eleven smaller companies rather than by the extension of the geographical responsibilities of the four large companies and the creation of no further companies at all.

Fundamentally every one of the fifteen Independent Television companies is a regional company, the four largest no less than the remaining eleven; for each company is appointed to provide programmes for a particular area, and no company has any contractual rights or duties outside its own area. In each of the fourteen areas, the local programme company is responsible for providing all the programmes, whether these are produced by the company itself or acquired from other programme companies or other sources. Each local programme company as far as possible arranges its programmes into the pattern that best suits its region, subject always to conformity with the Authority’s directions in the matter of balance, quantity and quality.

The Procedure of the Authority

This system of interrelated companies, technical installations and control arrangements operates under the direct control of the Independent Television Authority. The Authority usually consists of a Chairman, Deputy Chairman, and eight Members. The Members of the Authority serve in a part-time capacity, though the Chairman is expected to make the work of the Authority his main interest. Three of the members have as their special care the interests of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland respectively. Members are appointed by the Postmaster-General “from among persons appearing to him to be qualified for the Office”, and the Minister is required to satisfy himself that they have no outside interests likely to affect prejudicially their conduct as members. Meetings of the Authority are held every three weeks, generally at its headquarters in London, but several times a year meetings are held in centres of Independent Television production in other parts of the United Kingdom. At the meetings the Authority’s policy is determined and all aspects of its work are reviewed.

The head of the Authority’s permanent staff is the Director-General, Sir Robert Fraser, O.B.E. The Authority employs a staff of about 550 people, of whom about 180 are headquarters administrative and technical staff, 350 technical staff manning the transmitters and 17 regional staff.

The main formal channel of communication between the Authority and the programme companies is a Standing Consultative Committee (SCC). Senior executives of each company and senior staff of the Authority attend the monthly meetings of ,this committee which sits under the chairmanship of the Authority’s Director-General. Between meetings a constant flow of information and consultation between the Authority’s officers and each company ensures that the Authority’s policy is understood and carried out. Through its Regional Officers the Authority is represented in the Regions. These officers are responsible for the day-to-day surveillance of the Independent Television output in their areas, as well as for liaison with local authorities, voluntary bodies and members of the public.

The Authority is advised by committees of experts in the field of Religion, Children’s and School programmes, Adult Education, and the control of advertisements.


Independent Television is financially self-supporting. No charge falls on public funds. Under Section 10 of the Television Act the Authority is charged

so to conduct its affairs as to secure that its revenues become at the earliest possible date, and thereafter continue, at least sufficient –

(a) to meet all sums properly chargeable to revenue account (including sums required for the repayment of loans and interest thereon, for provision for depreciation and/or the establishment and maintenance of their reserve fund); and

(b) to make provision towards, and as soon as practicable for necessary capital expenditure.

To enable the Authority to start operations, it was empowered under Section 12 of the Act to borrow from the Postmaster-General, with the consent of the Treasury, up to £2 million initial capital in its first five years. In fact, it proved necessary to borrow only £555,000, and this sum was wholly repaid by the middle of 1959. The Authority’s responsibilities under Section 10 are therefore fulfilled, both its revenue expenditure and its capital investment programme being paid for entirely out of the revenue from the programme companies.


A full account of the provisions of the Act regarding the inclusion of advertisements in the programmes and of the Authority’s responsibilities in the advertising field is given in the chapter “Advertising Control”.

Two salient points are:

(i) Sponsorship is not allowed; advertisers are not allowed to supply, suggest or take credit for programmes. They may only buy time in the programmes in the same way as they would buy space in the press.

(ii) The frequency and permitted amount of advertising in the programmes are controlled by the Authority.

Advertising Control

It is a fundamental principle of the Television Act that the programmes should not be provided or sponsored by advertisers, but procured by the Independent Television Authority from independent programme companies under contracts to it. The advertiser is concerned only to buy time in television for the insertion of his advertisement just as he buys screen time in the cinema or space in a newspaper or magazine. He has no share in programme production and no say in programming decisions: these are matters for the broadcasters—that is to say the programme companies and the Authority.

The income of Independent Television, apart from the overseas sale of programmes, derives from the sale of these advertising “spots” of time, each ranging from 5 to 60 or more seconds in duration. The service gets no share of the television licence fees or other public funds.

There are two provisions in the Television Act for this total distinction between programmes and advertisements. Under Section 4(3) and paragraph 1 of the Second Schedule of the Act, it is the Authority’s duty to secure that the advertisements are “clearly distinguishable as such and recognisably separate from the rest of the programmes”. But further, Section 4(6) of the Act lays down that

Nothing shall be included in any programmes broadcast by the Authority whether in an advertisement or not which states suggests or implies or could reasonably be taken to state suggest or imply that any part of any programme broadcast by the Authority which is not an advertisement has been supplied or suggested by any advertiser; and, except as an advertisement, nothing shall be included in any programme broadcast by the Authority which could reasonably be supposed to have been included therein in return for payment or other valuable consideration to the relevant programme contractor….

Exceptional allowance is made for charitable appeals, reviews of publications or entertainments, documentary programmes and other items, but none of the exceptions weakens the force of the general requirement that nothing should be done which might give to reasonable viewers even the impression that an advertiser has provided a programme. The system has from the beginning proceeded smoothly and without argument on this basis. Some of the popular imported programmes do owe their existence to advertisers who have “sponsored” them in their country of origin—notably some of the programmes from the United States that are enjoyed by viewers of either of the British television services. But for British viewers these programmes have been bought and broadcast on the decisions of one of the broadcasting bodies and not on the decisions of advertisers.

Rules as to advertisements

Television Act 1954

Second Schedule

  1. The advertisements must be clearly distinguishable as such and recognisably separate from the rest of the programme.
  2. The amount of time given to advertising in the programmes shall not be so great as to detract from the value of the programmes as a medium of entertainment, instruction and information.
  3. Advertisements shall not be inserted otherwise than at the beginning or the end of the programme or in natural breaks therein, and rules (to be agreed upon from time to time between the Authority and the Postmaster-General, or settled by the Postmaster-General in default of such agreement) shall be observed —
    1. as to the interval which must elapse between any two periods given over to advertisements;
    2. as to the classes of broadcasts (which shall in particular include the broadcast of any religious service) in which advertisements may not be inserted, and the interval which must elapse between any such broadcast and any previous or subsequent period given over to advertisements.
  4. In the acceptance of advertisements, there must be no unreasonable discrimination either against or in favour of any particular advertiser.
  5. The charges made by any programme contractor for advertisements shall be in accordance with tariffs fixed by him from time to time, being tariffs drawn up in such detail and published in such form and manner as the Authority may determine.
  6. Any such tariffs may make provision for different circumstances and, in particular, may provide, in such detail as the Authority may determine, for the making, in special circumstances, of additional special charges.
  7. No advertisement shall be permitted which is inserted by or on behalf of any body the objects whereof are wholly or mainly of a religious or political nature, and no advertisement shall be permitted which is directed towards any religious or political end or has any relation to any industrial dispute.
  8. If, in the case of any of the television broadcasting stations used by the Authority, there appears to the Authority to be a sufficient local demand to justify that course, provision shall be made for a reasonable allocation of time for local advertisements, of which a suitable proportion shall be short local advertisements.

Principles for Television Advertising

The rules about advertising which follow are abstracts from the 4th edition of “Principles for Television Advertising” issued by the Independent Television Authority in August 1961. They are based on the recommendations of the Advertising Advisory Committee appointed by the Authority under Section 8 (2) (b) of the Television Act, 1954. It is the duty of the Authority under the Act “to comply and secure compliance with the recommendations” of the Advisory Committee “subject to such exceptions or modifications, if any, as may appear to the Authority to be necessary or proper having regard to the duties incumbent on the Authority” otherwise than under subsection 8 (2). The Authority has accepted the Committee’s recommendations and they therefore govern all advertising on the Authority’s service until further notice. The Principles for Television Advertising are kept under review and are revised from time to time as necessary.

It should be noted that paragraph 2 of the “Principles for Television Advertising” expressly reserves the right of the programme contractors and the Authority to impose stricter standards of advertising conduct than those laid down in the “Principles” and its two Appendices. This right is comparable to the recognised right of owners of other advertising media to reject any advertisements they wish.

The “Principles for Television Advertising” represents a general code of television advertising conduct. Appendix 1 to the “Principles” contains rules about specific classes of advertisements and methods of advertising. Appendix 2 is a reprint of the “British Code of Standards in relation to the Advertising of Medicines and Treatments” which, under paragraph 2 (a) of Appendix 1, governs the advertising on television of medicines and treatments.

Under Section 4 (5) of the Television Act the Authority is obliged to consult the Postmaster-General about the classes and descriptions of goods or services which must not

be advertised and the methods of advertising which must not be employed and to carry out any directions which he may give them on the subject. The Authority has consulted the Postmaster-General about the rules here published and he has accepted those to which Section 4 (5) is applicable.

If an advertiser or advertising agent is in doubt about any advertisement, he should approach The Independent Television Companies Association Ltd., Television House, Kingsway, London, W.C.2, or the contractor or contractors with whom he proposes to place the advertisement. He should not approach the Advertising Advisory Committee or any of its members direct.