The company was formed from the merger of the Associated Broadcasting Development Company (ABDC) under the control of Norman Collins, and the Incorporated Television Programme Company (ITC) under the control of Prince Littler and Lew Grade, two showbusiness agents.
Both companies had applied for a contract to become one of the new ITV stations. ABDC won the contract but had insufficient money to operate it; ITC failed to win a contract, mainly due to a perceived conflicts of interest resulting from the business operations of Grade and Littler. By the time of the merger ABDC were well advanced with their plans whilst ITPC planned to operate as an independent producer selling their shows to the new network contractors.
When financial problems hit ABDC, the Independent Television Authority, the governing body of ITV, invited Grade and Littler to join the ABDC consortium. This provided the money required and put Littler and Grade in control of the new company, sidelining Collins.
The new company was originally named the Associated Broadcasting Company (ABC), but Associated British Corporation's parent company, which wished to call their station ABC and ran a large chain of cinemas under those initials, successfully sued for prior ownership of the name. After ABC had been operating for three weeks the name was changed to Associated TeleVision Ltd (ATV). The logo, designed for ABC and tweaked for ATV, was a "shadowed eye" inspired by the CBS logo and reputedly designed by Lew Grade on a transatlantic flight back from the US. The logo is one of the most recognisable in broadcasting.
ATV camera at the National Media Museum, Bradford
ABC began broadcasting in its own right on Saturday 24 September 1955, after jointly presenting the network's opening night on Thursday 22 September. The name ATV was first seen in London on Saturday 8 October 1955. The company won two contracts, the weekend contract for London and the Monday–Friday contract for the Midlands. The latter service opened on 17 February 1956, with ABC providing the weekend programmes.
The company ran into financial difficulty due to the staggering losses of the first two years of ITV and start-up costs. The London weekday contractor Associated-Rediffusion shouldered some of ATV's losses and further funding was achieved by selling shares to the Daily Mirror newspaper. The company structure was changed several times until 1966, when ATV and ITC both became subsidiaries of the Associated Communications Corporation (ACC), formed by turning the old structure on its head. This marked the point where Lew Grade advanced from being the greatest influence over the company to taking control.
ATV's main impact was in variety and light entertainment.
In the contract and region changes in 1968, ATV lost the weekend franchise in London to the London Television Consortium, later renamed London Weekend Television, but its Midlands contract was renewed and extended for the full seven days. At this point the company was renamed ATV Network Limited.
End of franchise
During the 1970s, ATV received much criticism over its lack of local programming, particularly for the east of its region; such critics held that local shows had a Birmingham focus. In 1980, the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA) decided that ATV's lack of regional programming and production (it had a major studio centre at Elstree in Hertfordshire, a legacy of its London contract, well outside its Midlands franchise) was hampering the region, so it insisted that the new applicant for the franchise be more clearly based in the region and have separate facilities for the East and West Midlands.
ATV Midlands Limited, a shell company created by ACC solely for the franchise process, applied successfully for the contract. As a condition of its award, ACC was forced to sell 49% of the company, relinquish executive roles, sell the Elstree studios and rename the company to demonstrate that it was effectively a new business.
ATV ceased broadcasting at 12.34am on Friday 1 January 1982, following Scottish Television's networked Hogmanay Show. The final closedown was marked by a brief tribute to ATV from original announcer Shaw Taylor before duty announcer Mike Prince signed off with the playing of the National Anthem (an organ recording made at St. Chad's Cathedral, Birmingham). The newly reformed company, Central Independent Television plc, began broadcasting with an extended promo at 9.25am that morning.
Central inherited the studios at ATV Centre, Birmingham and ATV Elstree along with land that ATV Midlands had purchased for their new Nottingham studio centre. Central also maintained control of ATV's news archive and regional programmes, along with programming already in production or being shown at the time of changeover and schools programming; the rest of the ATV archive was sold by ACC.
ACC later divested itself of the remainder of Central after the Australian investor Robert Holmes à Court staged a boardroom coup and forced Grade to cede control. ACC remained in control of ITC and Stoll-Moss Theatres until 1988 when The Bell Group, the owners of ITC were taken over by the Bond Corporation. Subsequently, the new owners started an asset-stripping programme at ITC. In November 1988, ITC Entertainment was bought by its management.
In January 1995, PolyGram Filmed Entertainment bought ITC for $156 million, with Grade returning as chairman for life, bring him back into control of ITC until his death in 1998. Carlton Communications spent much of the 1980s and 1990s buying up the intellectual property of the former ACC, including the rights to the ATV logo and company name, the ATV news archive (via its purchase of Central) and finally in early January 1999, the company bought ITC television and film library from PolyGram/Seagram for £91 million, which reunited the programme library of Associated Television and Central Television and doubled the stock of its library division Carlton International, by giving it a total of 15,000 hours of programming.
Granada plc merged with Carlton in 2002, and all of ATV's national archive programming has been taken into their ownership. The regional news archive from both ATV and Central, plus some regional programmes, are stored at the Media Archive for Central England at the University of Nottingham.