This will be the year when television goes digital. Not that anyone
will notice, of course, because the equipment probably won’t be in the
shops until Christmas. But digital will have a major part to play in
this year’s media market because it will be an ingredient of the soup
the BBC is getting itself into. And a very sticky soup it is too.
Dear old Auntie will hit a severe funding crisis as it tries and fails
to juggle wholly contradictory interests. Such as trying to position
itself at the forefront of the digital future with, notably, its 24-hour
news channel, while developing pay-TV in partnership with Flextech, and
seeking to improve its credentials as a global media owner. Meanwhile,
domestic ratings will crash alarmingly on BBC 1 as the recent massive
talent exodus begins to bite. (Does the BBC have any drama expertise
left at all?)
Unhappily, though, this will be of little benefit to ITV - Channels 4
and 5 will be best placed to pick up discerning refugees fleeing
Auntie’s meltdown. Meanwhile, the summer’s traditional ITV ratings
crisis will be as much of a shock to network boss Richard Eyre’s regime
as it has been to his predecessors. (Where do advertisers get all that
anger from?) And he will admit for the first time that the network has
structural problems that are resistant to the waving of magic wands.
Lastly, newspapers. Tony O’Reilly, having retired as chairman of Heinz,
will focus on one of the other strings to his bow - Independent
He already owns the Irish version and half of the UK stable - the
Independent and its Sunday sister - but he doesn’t much care for the way
that the UK titles have been managed. At some point during the year
O’Reilly will move to oust co-owners, the Mirror Group - though look out
for Andrew Neil and the Barclay brothers trying to confuse the issue
with highly publicised offers to ’secure the future’ of the two titles.
Sadly, during the year, we shall lose one national newspaper. A likely
story? Well you may ask. After all, we’ve been saying this for at least
five years and catastrophe has yet to point its fickle finger, Today
So, what do the experts think will be the dominant issues in the media
market this year? Marco Rimini, currently the vice-chairman of CIA
Medianetwork and soon-to-be director of strategy at J. Walter Thompson,
says that you can’t escape the obvious: ’Everyone will be looking to see
what will happen at ITV.
That has to be the biggest issue. I think there is a great deal of
optimism about what Richard Eyre will achieve. It is a massive
undertaking, but I don’t think he would have taken the job unless he’d
received assurances that he would be allowed to address the underlying
structural issues and rivalries within the network.’
He also thinks it will be another interesting year on the agency
’There will be more consolidation on the buying side, which is still
fragmented compared with the sales market. But at the other end of the
market, I think there will be lots of start-ups to counterbalance that.
Lastly, it will be interesting to see how the major creative agencies
respond to the issue of media planning. I’ve been surprised at how
little they’ve done to address that question over the last couple of
Many believe that ad revenue growth will outstrip inflation by between 3
and 4 per cent this year. Ray Kelly, the chief executive of Carat UK, is
certainly counting on that. He also believes that Richard Eyre’s vision
for the future of ITV - to be revealed next week - will win support from
many people in the industry. It could even get the thumbs up from the
Incorporated Society of British Advertisers, probably, he predicts, in
the same week that Eyre is canonised by the Catholic Church and Chris
Evans is elevated to the position of BBC director-general. Other long
shots include the Times’s daily sale overhauling the Telegraph’s and the
ownership of CIA Group changing hands.
But, perhaps surprisingly, Kelly gives even longer odds for British
Digital Broadcasting. ’There are so many things to be settled -
organisational structures, strategic issues and even a broad
understanding about what it will or will not be as a service - that I
can’t see it getting its act together this year.’
Bob Wootton, the director of media and advertising affairs at ISBA,
predicts that the cost of television will still be an issue -
particularly inflation fuelled by falling audiences - and ITV will again
be the biggest worry. ’The minutage issue isn’t dead but restoring
audience is the key issue and, if that happens, the pressure to pursue
the minutage question would be greatly reduced,’ he comments.
Wootton believes the issue of media research will rumble on, especially
with the onset of digital: ’How many people will be watching and how do
you measure them? Yes, it’s true there won’t be a considerable audience
pull in the early years and the research community isn’t under immediate
pressure. But we have to start asking the questions now.’
And, he thinks that newspapers could do better: ’It would be nice to see
newspapers getting together to make better efforts to market themselves
According to Jim Marshall, the chief executive of Media-Vest: ’In
newspapers, the main theme is likely to be the Mail’s dominance, not
only of the mid-market but its encroachment on the popular market too.
The popular tabloids are going through what ITV has been going through -
they just seem to be in terminal decline and they have to do something
about it. Dare I say it - maybe the great British public is becoming
more discerning and sophisticated.
’But perhaps the biggest issue of all is the attitude of youth towards
media, especially traditional media.
According to a survey we conducted recently, it’s a pretty parlous
situation, with newspapers in particular commanding a very low esteem.
It will be interesting to see if magazines, particularly in the
specialist men’s sector, can continue to take advantage of that.’