MEDIA ANALYSIS: FORUM - 1999: the year digital burst onto the media scene/Alasdair Reid on how digital has drilled into the media landscape and altered the terrain

There was a digital angle to almost everything in media over the course of 1999 - the year that will be remembered for the fact that Emma Thompson provisionally named her new baby jane.com. It had to happen - and Emma has to be congratulated for stealing such a prominent place at the leading edge of the zeitgeist. Marks off, though, for not allowing digital interactive coverage of the delivery.

There was a digital angle to almost everything in media over the

course of 1999 - the year that will be remembered for the fact that Emma

Thompson provisionally named her new baby jane.com. It had to happen -

and Emma has to be congratulated for stealing such a prominent place at

the leading edge of the zeitgeist. Marks off, though, for not allowing

digital interactive coverage of the delivery.



It was the year in which BSkyB and ONdigital started offering free

digital set-top boxes, and Open, the interactive domain on the Sky

system, was launched. Digital was the issue that prompted a

re-examination, undertaken by the Davies Committee, of the future

funding of the BBC. And, if you stretch a point, it was also a major

factor behind a wave of consolidation, both mooted and actual.



In a world where traditional network TV faces an uncertain future,

mergers have looked a good way to hedge a few bets where the sellers of

airtime are consolidating. From a global perspective, the biggest TV

merger was between CBS and Viacom, but the UK could have its own version

with Carlton Communications and United News & Media already having

declared their intention to tie the knot. The complication is that ITV’s

third major power, Granada, could still be an uninvited guest at the

wedding. The proposed merger between Flextech and Telewest will also

have intriguing implications should it go ahead.



On the agency side of things, there were many proposals, modest or

otherwise, but only one union with possible short-term implications for

the balance of power among media companies - the merger between Leo

Burnett and MacManus.



In the UK, that could eventually result in the amalgamation of three

specialists: Motive Communications, MediaVest and Starcom.



But the evolving ITV situation has to be the biggest talking point of

the year. Bob Wootton, the director of media and advertising affairs at

the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers, thinks so: ’It’s a

pretty big way to end a year or a century, or a millennium for that

matter. The BBC has been a long-running area of concern for us too - and

the fact that the BBC admitted it had a huge hole in its funds, which in

turn led to the establishment of the Davies panel, is a major milestone.

As for digital and interactive and online advertising, I would say the

defining characteristic once again has been the contrast between the

high level of hype and the variable nature of the delivery. Generally

speaking, companies towards the more futuristic end of the spectrum

should do more to meet their promises or, dare I say it, bring their

promises down closer to their ability to deliver.’



Was the proposed ITV consolidation alarming news for the rest of the

commercial TV market? Not necessarily so, says Andy Barnes, the

commercial director of Channel 4. ’They’re not doing it to become a

great British media company now, are they? Let’s face it, they’re never

going to form another Time Warner. They are doing it to take more money

from the market. But if the rules change to allow a single ITV sales

house, that would also allow us to join forces with others. That has to

be seen as an opportunity.



Aside from that, there were two massive events in TV - the decision to

move News at Ten, which wasn’t as successful as ITV would have liked,

and the appointment of Greg Dyke as the director-general of the BBC. The

BBC has been in turmoil and it will take at least 12 months to turn

around, but he is incredibly bright, he has total support within the BBC

and has a mandate for change.’



For Jim Marshall, the chief executive of MediaVest, the MacManus merger

with Leo Burnett looms large in his assessment of the year’s events. He

agrees that the digital arena has dominated industry thinking but argues

that it has had its disappointing aspects. Marshall says: ’The move to

offer free set-top boxes was pretty significant and we’re already

looking at 15 per cent digital penetration - but I would have to say

that, from an advertiser’s point of view, the issue of interactivity has

still to be addressed properly and digital television may turn out to be

merely about more viewing fragmentation.



The lessons for the advertising industry may well be that individual

commercials will have to work harder.’



Marshall also believes it wasn’t the best time for a row to erupt in the

press market - a few weeks ago, three Birmingham newspapers owned by

Trinity Mirror were found to have been producing fraudulent circulation

figures. ’It is continuing to create bad blood in the newspaper industry

and it affects agencies and a lot of advertisers. It focuses our

attention on accountability within the industry and could have

far-reaching implications,’ Marshall predicts.



It was, perhaps, unfortunate that the newspaper industry, which arguably

had a quiet year, drew attention to itself for mainly negative reasons.

But Carolyn McCall, the deputy managing director of The Guardian and The

Observer, doesn’t see it in those terms.



She says: ’Of course, it’s hugely embarrassing for Trinity Mirror but I

can’t agree that trading currencies have been undermined. Looked at

overall, the ABC has been continually improving, and the National

Readership Surveys is delivering more than ever.’



McCall argues that, far from having a quiet time of it, the newspaper

business has had a ’watershed’ year. She says: ’The net has been massive

news for newspapers this year. It has been behind huge revenue growth -

double-digit growth in our case - and we’ve been launching dot.com

businesses ourselves. We now have a network of websites (Guardian

Unlimited) that are all becoming businesses in their own right. All the

major newspaper players have internet businesses.’



Topics

Become a member of Campaign from just £46 a quarter

Get the very latest news and insight from Campaign with unrestricted access to campaignlive.co.uk plus get exclusive discounts to Campaign events

Looking for a new job?

Get the latest creative jobs in advertising, media, marketing and digital delivered directly to your inbox each day.

Create an Alert Now

Partner content

Share

1 Job description: Digital marketing executive

Digital marketing executives oversee the online marketing strategy for their organisation. They plan and execute digital (including email) marketing campaigns and design, maintain and supply content for the organisation's website(s).