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Granada Television

Granada TV logo, 1980s

Granada Television is the British Independent Television (commercial television) contractor for the "North of England" weekday franchise from 1954 (started broadcasting in 1956) until 1968, and for the "Northwest England" all-week franchise since 1968. Granada is the only one of the original four ITA franchisees from 1954 which survived as a franchise holder into the twenty-first century.

In the 1930s, Cecil and Sydney Bernstein created a cinema chain in the south of England which, in the contemporary fashion for "exotic" names, they called Granada Theatres Limited. Some twenty years later like e.g. the Associated British Picture Corporation, with the dawn of commercial television the Bernsteins decided to be involved in the new industry which was a great competitor to the cinema chains, and since their chain was strongest in the south of England the Bernsteins applied for the franchise for the north of England, in order to minimise competition between their two enterprises. With some eighteen months between the awarding of their franchise and the start of transmission, Granada built a brand new studio centre in Manchester and determined to develop a strong Northern identity for themselves - Northern voices, Northern programmes, Northern idents ("From The North - Granada", and "Granadaland"). This was counter to the practice of the other franchisees, who adopted fairly nondescript names such as ABC Television, ATV, and Associated-Rediffusion, which did not have regional associations so that they could easily move their franchises to other parts of the country -- if they did well, in the future the ITA might reward them with a plum London franchise, on the other hand if they did badly they might be cast into the outer darkness of the Channel Islands franchise or lose their franchise altogether. The Northern identity immediately set Granada apart, making them immovable and embedding the company into the psyche of its viewers -- so much so that the term "Granada" to this day instantly means Greater Manchester, Lancashire, Merseyside, and Cheshire, and if any child in the UK is asked "Where is Granada?" they will probably point to the home of Coronation Street rather than Spain.

Granada's policy of regional identification was so successful that the ITA decided that all franchise contractors, large or small, should identify with their regions in this way -- this was a problem which was to dog ATV for the rest of its existence and be the direct cause of the company's demise.

The culture of Granada was distinctly more Socialist than the more conservative (in all senses of the word) companies further south. The company tended to produce gritty dramas and hard-hitting documentaries, such as World in Action and Seven-Up, not forgetting of course the classic soap opera Coronation Street which started a 13-week, two episodes a week run in the summer of 1960, and is still being produced four episodes a week in 2003, with one of the original actors still playing his role. Granada did not produce light entertainment extravaganzas of its own, but was quite happy to transmit those produced by its co-franchisees, but by the mid-1970s it was producing costume epics such as Brideshead Revisited. Another of its flagship programmes was the long-running quiz show, University Challenge -- the name and format of which were eventually taken over by the BBC in the 1990s, although still produced by Granada.

Following the reduction in its franchise area in the 1968 franchise round, Granada had little difficulty in retaining its franchise in the 1981 round, and despite bidding significantly less than its rivals, survived the 1991 round by virtue of a quality-control safety-guard.

However, by the late 1980s it was becoming clear that the UK commercial broadcasters were too small to be able to compete in the world television market - a problem exacerbated by the 1990 Broadcasting Act which instigated quotas on independent programming, removed the ITV's advertising monopoly, and instigated the expensive auction process of the 1991 franchise round. The Conservative government responded by relaxing the regulatory regime so that ITV contractors could take each other over, and Granada responded by going on an acquisition spree which resulted in Granada establishing an effective duopoly of ITV with Carlton Television, excepting only the small franchisees in Scotland, Northern Ireland, and the Channel Islands.

From 1997 until 2002 Granada and Carlton invested and lost over £1,000,000,000 in their joint venture into pay-tv digital terrestrial broadcasting, ONdigital, which was rebranded as ITV Digital in the summer of 2001, to the fury of Scottish Television, UTV, and Channel Television which attempted to block the renaming on the grounds that it would damage the ITV brand (which it did). ITV Digital ceased broadcasting on 1 May 2002.

Later in 2002, talks on a proposed merger between Granada and Carlton were broken off after a failure to agree terms.

On 28 October 2002 Granada Television was rebranded on air to ITV1 Granada. The Granada name is now only seen before regional programmes, the rest of the time the only brand shown is ITV1. Since this rebrand, all continuity announcements have been made from London including regional announcements, as is now the case for all English ITV stations. The Granada logo still appears at the end of its own programmes.

Towards the end of 2003, Granada was given the green light by the UK government to merge with its main ITV partner, Carlton. After much talk of such a union over recent years, it is almost certain to become a reality in 2004 with the new company likely to be called ITV plc.

It has been announced that Granada plans to sell off most of its Quay Street complex, as most productions are now based in London, where Granada now has its headquarters. Rumours are also circulating about the future of Granada’s other studio complexes such as the Tyne Tees studios in Newcastle.