The profit from Independent Television’s first night should have been something like £10,000, especially considering that Associated-Rediffusion and ATV had charged a premium for the first advertisers.

Elida Gibbs had paid 50% above the rate card for having the first commercial shown on British television, but thought that the entire premium would be going to charity. Instead, the accountants had a shock for management.

The night had made a loss. A large loss. Something was terribly wrong.

The costs of television – especially live television, the only real economic choice before telecine and video became a reality – were far higher than expected. And AC Nielsen revealed that the number of viewers was far less than expected. Even those with adapted sets were not guaranteed to tune in for opening night. Perhaps, it was suggested, they had been lured away by the death of Grace Archer on the BBC Light Programme, just a few minutes before the Independent Television opened for the first time.

The Lord Mayor of London, having been promised a large amount for his nominated charities, had named a grand total of twelve beneficiaries. With no money in the pot, A-R and ATV sent each charity a token amount of 100 guineas.

Associated Broadcasting Company - later to be Associated TeleVision - logo

Was this simply the costs of the first night’s spectacle? A-R management certainly hoped so. But the next day’s expenditure was also more than income. For ATV (or “ABC” as it was known initially) over the weekend, the situation was worse – their big-name stars took a programme’s profits away before the costs of the programme itself was even considered.

A-R was in the most exposed position. Despite having a set of parents with deep pockets (although Associated Newspapers got cold feet and began to look for ways to escape very quickly) the threat of bankruptcy was clear. ITV simply was not profitable, and after capital expenditure had been taken into account, it was downright suicidal to be involved. And AR had to carry five days of programming on its own without help from any other producer.

ITV was evidently a mistake, and A-R could pay a high price for getting involved.

About the author

Historian Russ J Graham is Editor-in-Chief of the Transdiffusion Broadcasting System

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