CLOSE-UP: LIVE ISSUE - BATH TV CONFERENCE. TV industry tries to present a united front but strain shows

TV execs were left fuming by a poor turnout from ad creatives, Jeremy Lee says.

Trevor Beattie's last-minute decision not to attend the Bath TV conference, where the TBWA/ London chairman and creative director was due to deliver a speech, seemed to sum up the indifference of the creative side of the industry to the event.

"Beattie's absence is a disgrace. And there should be more account people here," Mike Moran, the marketing director at Thames Water, fumed.

With a few notable exceptions - including the M&C Saatchi founding partner David Kershaw and a contingent from ITV's agency, Bartle Bogle Hegarty - they failed to turn up in their droves.

This was a shame - the debate would have benefited from their contribution and they may have learned something about an industry that has been the subject of much criticism of late.

"The industry has seen more than its fair share of doom-mongering over the past few years. So much of the talk has been about recession, fragmentation and inflation that we have been in danger of talking ourselves into collective depression," Dawn Airey, the managing director of Sky Networks, said.

In a bid to remedy this, all of the TV companies, including the BBC, buried their respective hatchets and sent representatives. This marks the first time the TV industry has got together on one platform to present a united front.

On the whole, they managed to pull it off, although it was impossible not to spot the obvious personal differences and false bonhomie between some of the protagonists. And old habits seem hard to shake - some of the sales directors also couldn't help themselves from pitching their own channels rather than television as a whole to the assembled audience.

As the biggest and most powerful commercial medium, it's not surprising that, traditionally, the TV companies have spent their time knocking each other rather than selling the virtues of television in order to maximise their own share of revenues.

But things have changed and, as Stephen Woodford, the chief executive of WCRS and the president of the IPA, pointed out, when he observed that agencies now spend a lot of time thinking of ways not to use TV.

In defence of the creatives not present, Woodford claimed that creative agencies had historically not been treated well by the TV companies and that they had never bothered to present to them. While undoubtedly true of most of the commercial broadcasters, this does seem at odds with the series of presentations that Carlton Sales' chief executive, Martin Bowley, has taken around the creative community.

Woodford also criticised the price of the event. The one-day conference cost each delegate just shy of £1,000 and he claimed that this would have put the creatives off.

Certainly, the cost of the event - which was moved from the previous three-day conference in a foreign country in a bid to reduce costs and attract more delegates - was surprisingly high and the cause of much grumbling. But broadcasters still complained that creative agencies are more than happy to spend thousands of pounds booking yachts and sending their staff to Cannes.

But it wasn't just the creative agencies that were singled out for criticism - the auditors, who were well represented, also came under attack for destabilising the relationship between the broadcasters and the clients.

"What happened to the trust between the TV companies and the client - why media auditors?" Nick Milligan, the deputy chief executive of five, asked. The representatives from Fairbrother Lenz Eley, Billetts and Media Audits are, of course, used to this criticism.

The BBC also came in for a good kicking. Malcolm Earnshaw, the director-general of ISBA, called for a wide-ranging reconsideration of the BBC's role in public service broadcasting.

"Charles Allen, the chairman of Granada, recently summed up the dilemma in identifying a new role for public service broadcasting. He said: 'In the past, the BBC gave the people what they needed, ITV gave them what they wanted.' I suggest that this is no longer the case today as the BBC - under Greg Dyke - attempts to make the BBC 'most things for most people'. I fear 'Dyke's world' is one in which he not only has to win, but others have to lose," he said.

An angry Airey continued the attack and, in particular, criticised the BBC's digital channels for encroaching on audiences that were already satisfied by the existing commercial channels.

"If you want me to get into a row, I will," she said.

To the amusement of the audience, Lorraine Heggessey, the controller of BBC1, attempted to justify the BBC's strategy by saying that there would be no further addition to the existing suite of six channels.

Andrew Molle, the marketing director of Specsavers Optical Group, defended the BBC's strategy and claimed that the commercial broadcasters were using it as an excuse for their own performance.

In a heated exchange, Airey dismissed Molle's claims and the confrontation was only ended when Mark Thompson, the chief executive of Channel 4, said: "I thought the idea of this conference was to be nice."

The creatives would have undoubtedly benefited from a research document presented by Geoffrey Beattie, a professor of psychology at Manchester University. He produced evidence that audio-visual messages that included iconic gestures produced greater recall than ones that only used images.

Although there was an absence of hairshirts, the TV companies conceded that they needed to work harder at marketing the medium. While it's unlikely that TV will ever come up with an equivalent to the Radio Advertising Bureau and the lack of creatives and senior clients was disappointing, the early indications are that the conference was generally well received. "Judge us on what we do, rather than what we did in the past," Milligan said.

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