campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 16 April 2010 12:00AM
TV is exciting again. Large-screen sets are flying off the shelves, ITV's event TV is watched by millions and the internet is reviving, rather than strangling, the medium.
The latest surge of excitement relates to the rapid uptake of high definition among viewers, something that Freeview and its marketing director, Tim Hunt, were hoping to capitalise on as it went head-to-head over Easter with its free-to-air rival Freesat with an ad campaign to sell its new HD service.
While Freesat has plumped for a football-driven theme, Freeview has opted for a more varied series of executions that deploy a slightly tongue-in-cheek reference to Sky's big-budget "slow motion" take on HD technology. Hunt, who has spearheaded the campaign launch from Freeview's Holborn offices, will soon leave the platform to take on the new role of director of marketing at Project Canvas, another initiative backed by the BBC and ITV (among others).
Meeting Hunt, who cut his teeth as an adman at St Luke's under its then managing director and incoming Channel 4 boss, David Abraham, it becomes clear that he likes a challenge and especially the pressures inherent in launching a new brand. He progressed to run St Luke's as one of three managing partners and worked on the agency's Sky account as the TV company embraced the digital age.
Hunt then joined Sky to help launch its Sky Italia operation - his language skills as much as his brand expertise assisting the broadcaster in clearing the regulatory hurdles ahead of its launch. He'll be repeating the task of working on a brand launch with Canvas but, for now, he remains focused on the Freeview HD activity.
He says: "Now is the right moment for HD; there are millions of sets in the market, so now is the time to capitalise. Our shareholders understand that the World Cup will be a great showcase for how good free HD content can be."
Hunt has appeared brave in his actions - appointing the start-up ad agency 18 Feet & Rising to replace the previous Freeview agency, Beattie McGuinness Bungay, ahead of the HD launch (which Hunt describes as "the most exciting challenge since Freeview launched").
His support for the start-up agency is perhaps testament to his own experience of running a business - he spent four years at the head of his own consultancy, called Velvet Shark, and worked on projects including one for ITV2 that helped the channel reinvigorate its positioning. Hunt says with a smile that "nobody works harder on your business than a start-up" and adds that he was impressed with 18 Feet & Rising's founders and their experience working at Fallon on business such as Sony and the BBC.
Marketing HD in standard definition is no easy task and the Freeview campaign has to compete against a slew of other HD-related activity. But Hunt is convinced that the Freeview campaign and its brand as a whole introduces "warmth and humanity" into HD marketing.
Sky, in particular, has stirred up the sector with its aggressive marketing of HD and its offer of more than 30 HD channels, albeit at a cost of at least £28 a month, against Freeview's BBC HD, ITV HD and Channel 4 HD offer. Hunt says: "Sky is one of our shareholders and the truth is there is space for both in the market. We're offering the most-watched, favourite channels in HD, not every nth channel. We appeal to the mass market, Sky is doing something else."
Some 2.1 million of the ten million-plus Freeview homes have invested in Freeview+ PVR technology, so the growth potential for enhanced Freeview services is there, but there are also drawbacks. Engineering issues mean that Freeview can currently only supply around 50 per cent of the country with a HD signal (rising to 60 per cent by the close of the year and 90 per cent by the 2012 Olympics), so the brand campaign arguably risks creating disappointment for some viewers who can't access the signal.
Hunt leaves Freeview for Canvas next month, which may seem familiar territory following his previous job as the marketing director of Project Kangaroo, the IPTV venture that was blocked by regulators. Canvas is in the similar situation of facing an investigation by the Office of Fair Trading and it would be a blow to Hunt if history were to repeat itself - Kangaroo was all set to launch under the name "SeeSaw" (now finally a brand under its new owner, Arqiva) and he says what happened was damaging to the TV industry: "The shame of it was that ad revenue that could have come back into UK plc might now not. I'm not sure if Hulu will launch in the UK, but if it does enter the market, then that ad revenue will not be coming back into the UK."
Yet the experience of Kangaroo has not put Hunt off joining Canvas, which just might see the light of day by the end of 2010. He says: "Canvas seems like a natural evolution for me and it's attractive to be involved in the internet coming to TV. It was brilliant and surprising to see ordinary people, not Clerkenwell media types, working out how the iPlayer fits in with their lives and that shows that there is a way for non-linear TV to be a real success."
There may be nervous times ahead for Hunt as Canvas faces regulatory hurdles, but he has valuable experience of launching media brands and continues to relish the opportunity of selling the new frontier of TV to a mass audience.
Family: Grace, ten; Cicely, eight; Charlie, six
Most treasured possession: A portrait of Mick Jagger my wife, Hymie, bought me a long time ago
Favourite television shows: Wallander (Swedish version), Being Human, The Wire
Favourite gadget: iPhone
Last book you read: Depths by Henning Mankell (the Swedish obsession continues)
Motto: I try to remember Bill Bernbach's "An idea can turn to dust or magic, depending on the talent that rubs against it"
This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk