Lovely conference, shame about ITV's schedules though

It's been 45 years since Lord Esher foretold that the dawn of commercial television would be 'a planned and pre-meditated orgy of vulgarity', writes Claire Beale.

Carat's Colin Mills did his best with a finely poised reference to shagging in his speech, which was followed intently by HRH Princess Anne, but otherwise last week's ITV conference Television Matters made a fine fist of proving Esher wrong.

The event was Jim Hytner's first public demonstration of the new marketing verve at the Network Centre. The aim was to step back from the usual commercial scrum and get back to the basics of the product itself: the power of the medium and of ITV's programmes in particular.

OK, so perhaps this last point is debatable, but more of that later. Certainly the fact that there was a conference at all is quite something. The admission being, of course, that there is a marketing job to be done to ITV's commercial customers. Now isn't that a quaint idea.

Planned and pre-meditated it clearly was. No salesmen were allowed near the platform, there were few opportunities for awkward questions (on digital, accreditation, inflation, consolidation) and criticism was generally confined to the processes of TV rather than the specifics of ITV.

But the audience's emotional nerve (a little oxymoronic, I know, given the proportion of buyers and sellers in the audience) was continually knifed with a succession of clips of big TV moments (vintage 'Corrie', someone winning a million with Chris Tarrant, that sort of thing). Bobby Robson and Terry Venables talked about the World Cup. The deliciously wicked Simon Cowell and Pete Waterman proved why the sparring on 'Pop Idol' was as entertaining as watching Gareth's breathing exercises. And it was these segments that really sparkled. The clients (of which there were a handsome number) woke up, asked questions and more than one admitted that Pop Idol, in particular, was a must-view in their household.

But, if anything, these sessions served to highlight the one major flaw in the day. There are still far too many of these appointment-to-view programmes being served up by our biggest TV channel. The one programme I came away licking my lips over ('The Osbournes'), I later discovered premieres on MTV (albeit a week later than billed). So thanks, ITV, I know where I'll be watching this one (and it will be the first time I've watched MTV since getting cable six years ago).

As Starcom Motive's Mark Cranmer pointed out in his presentation, there's still a fundamental disconnect between TV programmer, seller, buyer and advertising creator which undermines the real power of TV, and nowhere is this more in evidence than on the biggest channel. The conference did nothing to offer a solution. But, as Hytner hoped, it did at least leave you thinking "it's good to see those bastards at ITV taking the lead for once".

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