The Deregulation Of TV Magazines (1991)
For many years, if you wanted to know what would be on TV and radio for the coming week, you had to buy two magazines. Radio Times for BBC TV and radio, and TV Times for ITV and Channel 4. In March 1991 significant changes were made, meaning that magazines could now list all details of channels. This led to listings magazines for the first time being in direct competition with one another, leading to several major advertising campaigns, and price wars. One of the oddities about the changes was that they came in on a Friday, so there were empty columns in the pages from Saturday-Thursday before it all started. Here are my memories of how the established magazines dealt with these changes, and how the newcomers made an impact too.
Radio Times. One of Britain’s longest-established magazines, and also one of the biggest selling, had to transform. The look of the magazine became a lot more garish, the covers changing in a few years from nice illustrations and creative photography to dull headshots of Hollywood stars and increasingly brash headlines in an ugly typeface. It also said “still only 50p!” on the cover as if it was a naff comic.
Their advertising campaign used the phrase “if it’s on, it’s in”, because along with ITV and Channel 4 they could also list the earliest wave of satellite channels. After that they had another campaign which used the phrase “the best thing on TV” which has a clever double meaning. The listings became more condensed, with the removal of extra production credits, meaning bad news for many lighting directors hoping to see their name in print. I still find it rather odd seeing ITV shows on the cover of Radio Times to this day.
TV Times. They could now list BBC TV and radio, satellite, and also commercial radio. This was an area that was never really exploited, in my region they listed Capital FM and Capital Gold for a while but that was it, they never listed any others and nowadays it would be impossible to list them all. The first cover of the new era famously featured the headline “Together at last!” and was half-price at 25p!
Adverts for TV Times always appeared at the end of breaks on ITV and Channel 4 for many years, but now they had to buy the slots in breaks. To launch the new era they hired magician Geoffrey Durham. “I never knew there was so much in it” was one of the straplines for a TV Times advert campaign. Well now there’s even more! And now you don’t have to buy it any more!
TV Quick. A new magazine that launched in 1991, and it only cost 10p! In their launch campaign they used “That’s The Way I Like It” by KC And The Sunshine Band for an advert that seemed to be in every break on TV for a short while. I remember their listings were a lot more witty than other magazines, however they closed down in 2009.
What’s On TV. Another newcomer, this magazine was 25p at the launch. A free gift was also given away with the first issue. I do remember reading this magazine for a while, I enjoyed the page on children’s shows called Zap!, and eventually it became Britain’s biggest-selling magazine. In later years though, it has become a rather bog-standard magazine, seemingly featuring the same publicity photo of EastEnders character Phil Mitchell on the front every single week with the sensationist headline “Phil DEAD?”, and yet, he’s still around.
Others. As well as this, newspapers could now also provide weekly magazines at the weekend, and in more recent years, more magazines have come along including TV Choice and Total TV Guide. And of course now being in the era of EPGs and websites, there’s more information available than ever.