FORUM: Is pan-European television a redundant concept? - MTV launches a UK-only service next week. What was once a monolithic channel, beamed the length and breadth of the Continent, is now a federation of several locally targeted variants. This strategy
By ALASDAIR REID, campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 27 June 1997 12:00AM
For students of historical irony, the news that Mark Booth is to replace Sam Chisholm as head of BSkyB is rich in possibilities. Almost a decade ago, the wunderkind Booth was flown in from the US to realise Robert Maxwell’s wildest dreams of television empire. It’s almost unbelievable now but Maxwell and Murdoch were then considered serious rivals in the race to dominate an imminent new media age.
For students of historical irony, the news that Mark Booth is to
replace Sam Chisholm as head of BSkyB is rich in possibilities. Almost a
decade ago, the wunderkind Booth was flown in from the US to realise
Robert Maxwell’s wildest dreams of television empire. It’s almost
unbelievable now but Maxwell and Murdoch were then considered serious
rivals in the race to dominate an imminent new media age.
The fact that Murdoch now has no serious UK rivals speaks volumes about
what has happened to the UK market in the intervening years - but blame
for the failure of the Maxwell masterplan can hardly be laid at Booth’s
The jewel in Maxwell’s crown was MTV Europe, launched in partnership
with its US owners, Viacom. At that point, pan-European TV was big
Media gurus were telling everyone that national television stations
would soon be passe. We were, they predicted, soon to be absorbed into a
United States of Europe and the winners would be those who had the
foresight to begin broadcasting new channels for this emerging federal
But here’s irony number two: in the week that Booth served notice that
he was on his way back to London, MTV announced it was launching a
UK-only service. Days later in Milan, it launched an Italian service.
This was even more of a departure because, unlike the rest of MTV’s
cable and satellite distribution, this was on terrestrial frequencies.
These initiatives are the latest stage of MTV’s project to adopt a more
fragmented approach - it had already introduced separate programming
strands for the German, Scandinavian and Benelux regions.
MTV is becoming a bit like ITV - a single brand, a core schedule but
with regional opt outs. If you book a ’pan-European’ campaign, the ad
might be going out across the Continent but the MTV programming
environment will differ from region to region.
Once, the theory was that Euro youth comprised an X-generated spiritual
nation that knew no boundaries. The rest of us would take a little
longer but we’d get there in the end. The theory doesn’t hold much
water. There are only a handful of pan-European channels and only MTV,
Eurosport and CNN International carry much advertising. The whole market
isn’t worth much more than pounds 150 million. Does anyone believe in
pan-European TV these days?
Boris Kaz, MTV Europe’s senior vice-president of ad sales, believes it
isn’t that simple. He states: ’MTV Networks Europe now has many facets
and regionality is more relevant. But that doesn’t mean the pan-European
aspect is less relevant. For advertisers we offer six regional options
and one network pan-European buy. We can even offer pan-European with
split copy options. About 75 per cent of revenues are still pan-European
and the more we grow our distribution on a regional basis, the more the
network option looks even more attractive. We offer media value and
there’s nothing we shouldn’t do to achieve that.’
Kaz believes MTV is mirroring what has happened with advertisers. ’When
they first enter Europe with an international brand, they want to have
one campaign, one approach. As they develop and grow they want to
fine-tune that approach. We now have something to offer them at that
level as well as the pan-European level,’ he says.
Iain Jacob, the international director of Motive, agrees that the
question is more subtle. ’It’s not about whether pan-European channels
exist in the strictest sense,’ he argues. ’Strong media brands - some of
which are international - are emerging. You have to be big to drive
those brands. If you are not big, you will be pushed out. The idea that
you can do something on an artsy-craftsy homegrown basis is getting less
credible. You have to be a Turner or an NBC to be in news. In worldwide
music TV, there’s only really Murdoch in Asia and MTV elsewhere.
’As for audiences, the idea that we will move towards the era of the
homogeneous consumer is rubbish. There will be certain groups who share
core aspirations and core drivers in what they do in their lives. If you
are Eurosport, CNN or MTV it doesn’t mean that you can’t offer a
slightly different product in each market. After all, although there are
a handful of brands like Coca-Cola that are more or less the same
everywhere, most are not. Successful international companies like Nike
might have an international range but different things tend to sell in
MTV has to respond to a plethora of new channels - a trend that will
increase with digital. That’s the view of Mel Varley, the European
regional media director of Leo Burnett. ’We also know that, all things
being equal, people tend to watch local channels. MTV is a good brand
but to attract audiences it needs to offer programmes tailored on a
local basis, in local languages,’ she says.
’MTV continues to be a pan-European brand but, in the strictest sense of
the term, it isn’t a pan-European channel any more. We’d all like things
to be that simple but MTV won’t disappoint advertisers if these
developments allow it to offer a wider range of viable advertising
Tania Alonzi, the head of CIA Medianetwork’s pan-regional TV unit,
agrees that the concept of pan-European TV has moved on. ’What was a
single-channel, single language, one-stop advertising sell has evolved
into something far more flexible. Pan-European channels are usually
thematic, targeting niche audiences,’ she comments. ’They don’t tend to
be well researched so they have been sold in a conceptual way without
the accountability you might expect from national channels.
’What channels like MTV are trying to do is to make their product more
relevant to individual markets. MTV has faced competition from local
channels such as Viva in Germany and Music Factory in the Netherlands.
Now it will be able to compete for local ratings while retaining core
programming and brand values.
It will continue to sell advertising on pan-European service and that
will interest advertisers as long as it remains cost effective.’
This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk
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