ITV3 at 10: The launch drama

ITV3 is marking 10 years on air as the channel celebrates being one of the the UK's most-watched channels with its popular blend of classic dramas. 

For Freeview and Sky viewers, the channel's launch was a drama as well: with ITV3 only just arriving in time for launch on Sky, killing off a channel in the process and the newcomer becoming a guilty party to the ITV News Channel's demise a year later by stealing its Freeview slot.

At 9pm on 1st November 2004, ITV3 became the first channel to be launched by the newly formed ITV Plc - created by the merger of Carlton and Granada, which completed earlier that year.

The first programme to be aired on ITV3’s launch night was an episode of the crime thriller Rebus, based on the novels of Ian Rankin and starring John Hannah in the title role.

The channel was initially only advertised as launching on Virgin Media and Freeview on 1st November. On Freeview it took the bandwidth of the ITV News Channel in all regions outside London.

It meant ITV's News Channel lost out on significant numbers of viewers on a platform with limited competition at a time when Freeview was seeing viewer uptake take-off, until a technical upgrade could restore the News Channel on a region-by-region basis in 2005. By then the damage had been done and encouraged by the success of ITV3, ITV Plc launched ITV4 on 1st November 2005, removing capacity from the ITV News Channel again, reducing it to a daytime only slot for its remaining time on air - the News Channel closed the following month.

Sky and ITV were meanwhile wrangling over getting the channel carried on satellite. Around 6 hours before the channel was due to be launched, Sky and ITV Plc reached an agreement that saw ITV/Sky joint venture GSB (Granada Sky Broadcasting) being taken over completely by ITV. GSB operated Plus (Granada Plus) and Men and Motors. ITV moved swiftly and, around 4:30pm, closed down Plus midway during an episode of Pie in the Sky so that it could launch ITV3 in its place just over four hours later.

Within weeks of launch, ITV3 became the seventh most popular digital channel in the UK. Since 2011 it competes with sister channel ITV2 to be No.1 "digital" channel (now that all TV is digital, it refers to being the most watched channel after the main 5 channels).

  • To mark ten years on air, ten of the most popular ITV3 dramas will be shown over the weekend of 1st and 2nd November, including episodes from Marple, Endeavour, Inspector Morse, Lewis, A Touch of Frost, Doc Martin, Foyle’s War and Midsomer Murders.

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