MEDIA PERSPECTIVE: Failings at ITV will continue until real change takes root

By CLAIRE BEALE, campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 24 July 1998 12:00AM

Give or take a month or two, it’s almost a year since ITV paraded its new chief executive, Richard Eyre, before advertisers and agencies with a solemn vow to do better.

Give or take a month or two, it’s almost a year since ITV paraded

its new chief executive, Richard Eyre, before advertisers and agencies

with a solemn vow to do better.



Not difficult, really, considering the state ITV was in before the

venerable Eyre got his hands on it. Sliding audiences, rampant

inflation, advertisers chewing chunks out of the network at every

platform opportunity - the new chief exec was in for a fight.



But the new Network Centre team under Eyre had their excuses ready - no

flies on these guys, despite the shit they were knee deep in. A new dawn

was on the horizon, they promised; they just had to get through the long

dark night of programming that had been commissioned by the old

order.



So ratings kept stumbling. There were a few short-term tweaks over the

intervening months, just to show that the new boys were thinking about

things. But real change would have to wait.



Wait ... until, well, now really. This week, the Network Centre unveiled

its first autumn schedule, its flagship line-up through to Christmas

and, importantly, the schedule that will be running just when the

network goes into its vital trading period, laying down airtime deals

for 1999.



So what has ITV come up with? Not much, it seems, on paper. Morecambe

and Wise, Des O’Connor Tonight, Heartbeat, more Cilla Black. Excuse me

while I don’t bother to stifle a yawn. Baby and bathwater are still

firmly ensconced and baby’s looking like a shrivelled prune. The obvious

takeout from the new autumn schedule is that ITV is playing safe,

looking for banker shows that pull in the numbers.



Yet the entire regulatory framework in which ITV is operating serves

only to foster such caution. On the one hand, advertisers have been

beating the network for more viewers, so proven old-timers are the

low-risk option.



On the other, the network is continually fighting with one hand behind

its back, as rival channels, both commercial and public service, are

less heavily restricted.



The culture secretary, Chris Smith, this week suggested that ITV may

finally be released from some of its shackles - namely requirements to

invest in religious and children’s programming - and the prospect of a

single regulator will also help level out the playing field.



This is surely an area where the advertising community is united in its

views: ITV should be allowed the same commercial and scheduling freedoms

as its rivals. But it’s an issue where all the main trade bodies have so

far failed to bury their hatchets and work together on lobbying for

change. Their impotence merely serves to give ITV on-going excuses for

its poor performance; as long as ITV can cry foul with the regulators,

Eyre and his team will have a get-out clause.



Watch the critics pile in to slam the autumn schedule (off-the-record),

and then count how many are raising their voices as loudly in calling

for a fairer fight for ITV.



This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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