The Insider's Guide to Production: Too soon for TV spot's obit

Contrary to popular belief, the traditional television ad may never die - but will have to adapt to life on other platforms.

Des Lynam knows how it feels. Parkinson too. Past your prime, gents, people keep saying.

No one watches you anymore, except a few old dears your age. Time to pack it in, put on your slippers and make way for the new blood.

The TV ad has endured another year of gloomy headlines. The world's largest advertiser, Procter & Gamble, which has relied on television to shift its soap powders and detergents since Parky was a lad, is to make long-term cuts to its TV budget. ITV, still the UK's largest commercial TV station, continues to lose ratings and ad revenue. Britain's youngsters spend more time on the web or their mobiles than they do in front of the box. And worst of all? Personal video recorders will do to the TV ad what eBay is doing to the car boot sale, Tesco to the corner shop and Chelsea to Manchester United.

Yes, digitally armed consumers, we're told, will destroy a business model that has thrived for generations (as people in the music and photography industries can attest to). But apparently, even comparisons with Napster play down the economic and social impact of overturning the TV advertising market. TV networks now have to find new ways to fund their shows and brands find new ways to reach the masses.

Industry experts predict that the internet and out-of-home media will mop up the bulk of ad budgets lost to TV. Meanwhile, product placement is being billed as TV's saviour, especially as the European Commission will soon relax the laws that restrict it. Could British TV become like the US's, The Economist pondered, where three-quarters of all scripted prime-time network programmes contain paid-for product placement? Will our newsreaders read from sponsored notes? Will logos flash during football matches (as they do in Spain)? Will the next Parky look like a F1 racing driver?

With this in mind, this summer's 50th anniversary of the first commercial to run on the box had the feel of a farewell tribute to a cultural institution.

The arrival of commercial television in 1955 was the most public sign of Britain's development as a modern, competitive post-war state, a nostalgic John Hegarty wrote in Campaign recently. But even Hegarty, the chairman and worldwide creative director of an agency (Bartle Bogle Hegarty) famed for its lovingly crafted television ads, dared to wonder: "Will the spot survive the next 50 years?"

Even in the age of consumer-led TV, the answer is probably yes. Sure, you can watch TV on your mobile phone (Orange TV already offers 16 channels).

Yes, the broadcasters are working on ways to stream their shows on-demand over the internet. And even The Royal Opera House has plans to podcast its performances when TV hits the iPod.

But these platforms are still likely to carry advertising - and each of the authors in this supplement will play a role in producing it. The only real difference will be that it is requested, not broadcast. Systems will be able to track viewing habits as effectively as Amazon tracks its customers, so advertising can be targeted with an almost creepy precision.

TV - and TV advertising - will become as personal as broadcasting has been generic.

So yes - as Caspar Delaney, an executive producer at RSA Films, points out on page 13 - there has been a "premature obituary" written for the TV commercials production company. And his claim that "the moving image is by far the best means known to man of selling a product or building a brand" is worth considering when you next read another "death to TV ads" headline. When was the last time you were stunned by a skyscraper banner on a website, found a piece of direct mail funny or were charmed by a text message from your mobile phone operator? It's fair to say there's life in the old spot yet.

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