|Based in||Whiteley, Hampshire
|Broadcast area||South and South East England|
|First airdate||1 January 1993|
|Closed||Lost on-air identity 27 October 2002 (now known as ITV at all times)|
|Owned by||United News & Media (1996–2000)
ITV plc (2004–present)
ITV Meridian (previously Meridian Broadcasting) is the holder of the ITV franchise for the South and Southeast of England. The station was launched on 1 January 1993, replacing previous broadcaster Television South, and is owned and operated by ITV plc, under the licensee of ITV Broadcasting Limited. Meridian Broadcasting Ltd was one of several (but not all) ITV plc-owned regional companies to have its legal name changed on 29 December 2006, when it became ITV Meridian Ltd. This company is, along with most other regional companies owned by ITV plc, listed on www.companieshouse.gov.uk as a "Dormant company".
The company broadcasts to the region from the Hannington, Midhurst, Rowridge, Whitehawk Hill, Hastings, Heathfield, Tunbridge Wells, Bluebell Hill and Dover transmitters. The company also broadcasts its regional news service to viewers served by the Oxford transmitting station despite this area being officially in the neighbouring ITV Central region.
ITV Meridian was formed as Meridian Broadcasting in 1991. The company consisted of a consortium between Mills & Allen International (MAI), Selectv (15%) and Central Independent Television (20%), the latter advised the consortium. Central along with Selectv were instrumental in winning the franchise as a low bidder. Meridian intended to operate as a publisher broadcaster, meaning that the majority of programmes would be commissioned from independent producers rather than produced in house.
In the 1991 ITV franchise auction, Meridian faced three other opponents in gaining the franchise, including the incumbent Television South and bids from Carlton Communications and CPV-TV. Meridian bid £36.5 million for the franchise, lower than TVS's bid of £59.8 million, however TVS's bid was rejected following an unsatisfactory business plan. As the highest qualified bid, Meridian therefore won the franchise.
Meridian launched at midnight on 1 January 1993 with the programme Meridian – The First 10-Minutes a 10-minute outside broadcast from Winchester Cathedral presented by Debbie Thrower and previewing the station's forthcoming output. Thrower opened the broadcast with the following words:
|“||Happy New Year as you join Meridian live from Winchester Cathedral. Hello, I'm Debbie Thrower and welcome to 1993 and a double celebration. This magnificent cathedral was completed 900-years ago this year and your new ITV station, Meridian, has been on air now for little over nine seconds. For centuries, this cathedral in Winchester has been a symbol of continuity. And tonight, we recognise the value of preserving all what's best.||”|
Other launch day programmes included Michael Palin's documentary First Night on Meridian, the first Meridian News bulletins for its three sub-regions and the movie Best Defense. Meridian advertised their presence as the new ITV contractor heavily; promotions for Meridian began appearing on TVS prior to the launch and the new company's logo was also incorporated into the first advert shown on the station – the special edition Ford Fiesta Meridian available through Southern Ford dealers.
Shortly after, MAI began to expand by buying Anglia Television, the ITV franchise for the east of England, in 1994. The following year, MAI became a major shareholder in the consortium that won the franchise for Channel 5. In 1996, MAI merged with United Newspapers (via an agreed takeover by United) to form United News & Media (UNM). The resulting company owned the Daily Express newspaper, Meridian, Anglia, and a large shareholding (through the Yorkshire Post) in Yorkshire Tyne Tees Television, the owners of Yorkshire Television and Tyne Tees Television. The stake in Yorkshire Tyne Tees Television was sold to Granada, allowing them to take control of the two franchises in 1997. United News & Media later agreed to buy Scottish Television's 20% stake in HTV and on 28 June 1997, HTV was taken over fully by UNM for £370 million.
In 1999, plans emerged of a merger between UNM and rival Carlton, however these talks failed when it appeared that Meridian would have to be sold off as a condition of the deal. As a result, the television assets of UNM were sold to Granada, however due to regulations stating that the company could not control that large an audience share, the broadcasting arm of HTV was sold to Carlton in exchange for Central's 20% stake in Meridian.
In 2002, Granada and Carlton decided to consolidate the separate brandings for the ITV franchises that they controlled, changing the name of the region to ITV Meridian, with the on screen name of ITV1 used before all non-regional programming. The consolidation became further pronounced when Carlton and Granada merged to form ITV plc in 2004. 2004 also saw the move of ITV Meridian from their previous Northam studio complex to a new studio base in Whiteley, Hampshire.
In the subsequent years, ITV Meridian's workforce has been condensed slowly with its operations considerably downgraded. This came to a head when Michael Grade announced his intention to reduce the number of regional programmes from 17 to nine. As part of these plans, which were approved by Ofcom in 2008, the three editions of the news programme Meridian Tonight were replaced with a single edition with a pre-recorded opt out for either the South or South East of the region. The plans resulted in over half of Meridian's existing staff being made redundant; all employees wishing to remain with the company were obliged to re-apply for jobs. Some staff opted for voluntary redundancy and many others have been left without jobs. Strike action was threatened as a result of the announcement.
When Meridian originally won the franchise in 1991, its plans were to purchase buildings, not unlike its current arrangement today: with a small studio for continuity and local news. This was planned because, being a publisher-broadcaster, it did not plan to make any programmes itself, instead buying in programmes from independent production companies. However, when TVS lost its franchise, TVS' plans were to become an independent production company based at Vinters Park, Maidstone, site of the former TVS South East division. Meridian took the opportunity to buy the Southampton studios from TVS.
Meridian did put these studios to good use in the future; on some occasions, Meridian would hire its studios out to the independent companies to use for the programmes, and, under the ownership of United News & Media, some Channel 5 programmes were made there. However, as a publisher-broadcaster, the facilities were generally too big for Meridian. By 2004, ITV plc had decided that regional programming would be phased out in the years to come. In 2004, Meridian closed their Northam studios and moved to a unit in a business park in Whiteley. These new headquarters at Forum One, Solent Business Park, contained a newsroom plus the main technical production and transmission arms of the programmes including three small news studios.
In summer 2008, Meridian's former studios at Southampton started to be dismantled, and it was planned to build a multi-storey block of flats. In December 2010, the site was still lying empty after developer Oakdene fell into administration in 2009.
Over the weekend of 22–23 October 2011, ITV Meridian moved to new premises in Fusion Three, on the same business park at Whiteley and across the road from its previous office. The new headquarters are again based in a conventional office building, and includes two studios, one of which is used for Meridian Tonight. The move was due to the cancellation of the lease at its former Whiteley premises.
In addition to Meridian's Southampton headquarters, the company operated other studios and news bureaus. Upon launch, the South East output came from The Maidstone Studios before moving to a purpose-built studio centre at New Hythe near Maidstone in Kent in 1994. Following the move of the studio to Whiteley, the complex closed with a south-east newsroom with producers and reporters being moved back to The Maidstone Studios. Additionally, Meridian originally opened and operated a new studio complex at Newbury for its Meridian West operation. This closed in 2001, when the studio was moved to Southampton.
When Meridian launched, it divided its news operations into three separate sub regions. These regions were served by their version of news programme Meridian Tonight, presented by an individual team of presenters from a studio within the sub region. These regions were:
- Meridian South, serving Dorset, the Isle of Wight, the majority of West Sussex, southern Hampshire and southern Wiltshire. Initially broadcast from Meridian's Southampton headquarters.
- Meridian South East, serving East Sussex, Kent, and parts of West Sussex. Initially broadcast from The Maidstone Studios, before moving to New Hythe in 1994.
- Meridian West, serving Berkshire, northern Hampshire, northern Wiltshire and parts of Surrey. Initially broadcast from Newbury.
The services remained without major modification until 2001 when the Newbury complex was closed and the Meridian West studio operation was moved to the Southampton headquarters; Newsgathering remained the same as previously. When the company moved to Whiteley in 2004, presentation of all three editions of Meridian Tonight moved with the company, resulting in the closure of the New Hythe studio base, although newsgathering in the south-east was unaffected as journalists and reporters moved back to the Maidstone Studios. Despite this move not being uncommon in the broadcasting industry, some considered the move controversial, particularly as the Meridian South East programme would be presented 60 miles from the nearest part of the South East region and 160 miles from its furthest point.
On 4 December 2006, the Meridian West and Central South sub regions were merged to form the non-broadcast region ITV Thames Valley. This new service was broadcast from Whiteley, using Central's Abingdon base as the main newsgathering centre.
Under cost-cutting plans announced by ITV in September 2007 and agreed to by the UK's broadcasting regulator Ofcom in October 2008, the region's three sub-regions would be replaced with one programme. This new programme would be split between the South East and a combined South/Thames Valley region for the first half of the programme, and joined as one for the remainder of the programme. One of the opt out segments would be pre-recorded depending on the regions news. The new programme began on 9 February 2009, presented by Sangeeta Bhabra and Fred Dinenage. Pan-regional bulletins including morning ones during Daybreak, which are branded Daybreak Meridian News, are also used in the region. The sub-regions retain their own local advertisements.
In 2013, following a network wide rebrand of ITV, the long-standing Meridian Tonight brand was retired and replaced by ITV News Meridian. On 23 July 2013, proposals to reintroduce some elements of the sub-regional services were approved by OFCOM. As a result, ITV News Meridian will produce separate lunchtime and weekend bulletins for the South and South East with opt-outs within the main 6pm programme extended slightly to 20 minutes. In the former Thames Valley region, plans were also approved for a ten-minute opt out within the 6pm programme for the south of England and a full late night bulletin on weekdays after News at Ten.
From its launch, Meridian's ident featured an exploding mix of orange, yellow and blue, which came together to form the distinctive sun/moon face logo. The unusual logo design was reportedly inspired by maritime images (the sun/moon face is a recurring feature on compasses, sextants and other nautical artefacts used in the navigation of ships), appropriately reflecting the south's long seafaring history. The name "Meridian", which derives from the Latin meridionālis meaning "of the south", may also be linked to the Prime Meridian (the boundary between the Western and Eastern Hemispheres of the globe, and a key landmark in the measurement of time), which passes through the middle of the region, although this has not been confirmed.
In September 1996, the ident was updated with a new packaging, this ident was replaced by one with a deep purple/blue background and an emphasis on the deep colours of the logo, as well as a smoother formup. This ident was replaced on 5 October 1998 by one with a yellow background and featuring the ITV logo underneath the Meridian name. This was an attempt to avoid the generic ITV look to follow, but Meridian was nevertheless forced to adopt this in 1999. On 8 November 1999, the emphasis was on network's hearts logo with a very small Meridian logo only featuring at the end of the formup. This look was in use until October 2002 when ITV1 in England and Wales abandoned local continuity and idents. The only exception were ITV1 idents featuring the word "Meridian" below the ITV1 logo, shown before regional programming. However, even this did not last, and only a few years later these regional idents were dropped. Meridian for a while managed to still retain some identity, by featuring their (sun/moon face) logo on the local weather forecast. However the logo was removed in 2004, last seen at the start of the late-night weather forecast on 5 December 2004. On 1 February 2005 it was replaced with a generic "ITV Meridian" logo, the official name of the franchise.
Since 2006, all idents have been generic to the entire network with no difference between regions and only the ITV1 name being used. On 14 January 2013, the station's on-air identity was changed to ITV, along with all other ITV plc-owned franchises.
Meridian Broadcasting was originally intended to function as a publisher-broadcaster, commissioning most programmes from independent producers and with in-house production largely restricted to regional news, sport and current afairs. However, over time and as its ownership changed, Meridian began to make a number of regional and networked programmes itself. As its parent company MAI became a significant shareholder in Channel 5, Meridian supplied a number of the new channel's programmes for the network such as sports programme Turnstyle, youth programme The Mag and children's show Havakazoo.
Meridian also geared a large amount of its network output towards younger viewers, with independent commissions including Wizadora for pre-school children, plus ZZZap!, The Ruth Rendell Mysteries, It's a Mystery, The Vanishing Man, Jane Austen's Emma, William and Mary and Eye of the Storm for older children. Drama became a successful genre for the station, with Peter Kosminsky's No Child of Mine, tackling the emotionally difficult subject of child abuse, winning Meridian a BAFTA award. Meridian presents Mary Wesley's two novels: Harnessing Peacocks and The Vacillations of Poppy Carew. Later, the same production team tackled vicious childhood bullying in Walking on the Moon. Meridian's two-part production In the Name of Love in 1999 starred Tara Fitzgerald, Tim Dutton and Mark Strong, and was written by Sarah-Louise Hawkins and directed by Ferdinand Fairfax. Hornblower was a Sunday night success for the ITV network while another Sunday night favourite, Where the Heart Is, transferred production from Anglia Television to Meridian in 2003 - the station's last major contribution at a network level.
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