Until 1954 there was only one television channel in the UK. It was the publicly owned BBC. In that year the government auctioned licences for commercial TV stations. These would be regional operations which could offer advertising on TV for the first time. Various companies were interested in this opportunity and they naturally focussed on the regions with the best demographics – it seemed natural that rich regions would generate more advertising revenue. Sidney Bernstein was the Managing Director of a cinema chain in the south of England. He wanted to bid for a region. He asked his marketing team not to find the richest region but instead to find the wettest region in the UK. It was the north-west of England. He bid for this and was successful. He established Granada Television based in Manchester and serving the north of England.
He took a different point of view. He surmised that if it was sunny outside people might be in their gardens or go for a walk. If it was pouring down with rain they were more likely to stay inside and watch television.
Sidney Bernstein was born in 1899 into a large Jewish immigrant family who lived just outside London. His father was Swedish and his mother was Russian. Sidney left school at 15 to work in his father’s cinema theatre business. At the age of 22 he took over the business which had just four theatres. He was always adventurous and innovative. In 1930 he opened a super-cinema holding over 1000 people. Bernstein employed a Russian theatre designer to create opulent interiors for his cinemas with Gothic, Renaissance and Moorish influences. He was a pioneer in undertaking market research into the tastes and habits of cinema audiences. He launched Saturday morning shows for children.
Granada Television established a strong reputation for innovative high-quality drama and documentary shows. In 1957 Granada produced the top ten programmes by ratings in its region. In 1962, it was the first television outlet to screen the Beatles on British television. Over the next 20 years the company successfully diversified into television rental, publishing, bingo, bowling alleys and motorway service areas.
Sidney Bernstein retired from Granada in 1979 and died in 1993.
Insights for Innovators
When everyone else is facing in one direction, deliberately look in another direction. The other companies bidding for franchises were asking, ‘Which is the wealthiest region?’ Bernstein asked, ‘Which is the wettest region?’ As David Bowie said in his song Changes, ‘Turn and face the strange.’
Popular does not have to mean low-quality. Granada Television pioneered some legendary new TV series including Coronation Street, World in Action and What the Papers Say. Bernstein took a strong personal interest in each of the shows and insisted on high standards of content and production quality. Commentators of the day feared that commercial television stations would pander to the lowest tastes and cheapest shows but Bernstein confounded them.
Based on a chapter in Think like an Innovator by Paul Sloane published by Pearson.