Oliviers set for return to mainstream TV

Michael Ball and Imelda Staunton hosting this year’s Olivier Awards ceremony at the Royal Opera House. Photo: Tim Whitby/Getty Images
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Coverage of the Olivier Awards is set to be screened on mainstream television for the first time in a decade, with ITV close to securing the broadcast rights to the ceremony.

The Stage understands that the broadcaster and the Society of London Theatre, which organises the awards, are in final discussions about transmitting next year’s ceremony on ITV1.

Launched in 1976, the Laurence Olivier Awards were originally titled the Society of West End Theatre Awards – named after SOLT’s predecessor. They were renamed in 1984 and have since become the UK’s highest-profile theatre awards.

Having the awards broadcast on mainstream television will be a major coup for SOLT, which had hoped the BBC could be persuaded to screen them after almost one million people watched the Oliviers on the BBC’s red button digital service earlier this year.

Speaking to The Stage at the time, SOLT chief executive Julian Bird said: “We hope this shows the strong demand there is for such a programme – in the future the BBC might consider putting it on one of its mainstream channels.”

The awards were previously shown by BBC2 until 2003. Last year, television content was reintroduced, but only via the BBC’s red button.

From next year, however, there are plans for the awards to return to having prominent television coverage, with ITV1 screening an edited version of the ceremony on the same night as the awards themselves, which take place at the Royal Opera House on April 28.

The ITV deal will be a blow to BBC producers involved with the Corporation’s previous coverage of the awards. They are believed to be disappointed they were unable to convince management of the show’s worth, despite figures showing that almost one million people accessed coverage of the ceremony this year, with 681,000 people watching a highlights package on the red button and 181,000 using the digital service to watch the ceremony live.

However, the BBC received complaints about its coverage last year, because it frequently cut away from the awards to show commentary backstage. At the time, the Corporation admitted the transmission “did not meet audience expectations”.

ITV and SOLT declined to comment on plans for 2013’s ceremony.