Media Analysis: Forum - Worries for media chiefs as ITV begins new chapter/As ITV sets new audience targets, Alasdair Reid senses uncertainty among the ad fraternity

What Richard Eyre giveth, he may also taketh away. It was perhaps appropriate that Eyre, in his last public act as ITV network chief executive, should be allowed to begin dismantling the network’s ambitious audience share targets. Peaktime audience commitments were the most distinctive, innovative and acclaimed aspects of his tenure as the network’s first ever network boss. They were his baby.

What Richard Eyre giveth, he may also taketh away. It was perhaps

appropriate that Eyre, in his last public act as ITV network chief

executive, should be allowed to begin dismantling the network’s

ambitious audience share targets. Peaktime audience commitments were the

most distinctive, innovative and acclaimed aspects of his tenure as the

network’s first ever network boss. They were his baby.



This was always going to feel like the end of an era - now that’s doubly

true. And this really was the last act: Eyre joins Pearson Television on

1 February. With further ITV consolidation within ITV on the cards,

Eyre’s successor, whenever he or she is finally appointed, could face a

very tough time. As well as internal politics, the external situation is

challenging - in a fragmenting marketplace, growth just isn’t an issue

any more. ITV must once more face up to its lot in life - that of

managing decline.



The omens lately have not been great. And if the Eyre years come to be

regarded with affection, many people will forget the fact that the

targets weren’t actually met. Peaktime audience share was to be 38 per

cent in 1998, 39 per cent in 1999 and 40 per cent in 2000. Last year the

figure achieved was actually only 38.8 per cent.



As the performance ambitions are reined in, are we also seeing the end

of an era of mutual understanding between ITV and its customers? Jim

Marshall, chief executive of MediaVest and spokesman on the future of TV

for the Media Policy Group of the Institute of Practitioners in

Advertising, says that the most worrying development is that the ITV

network centre didn’t consult the ad industry when setting its new

course. He states: ’I think it would be useful for ITV to continue to

set its audience targets in consultation with advertisers and agencies.

We realise that there are extenuating circumstances - digital has helped

drive forward the penetration of multi-channel TV.



They’d have to admit, though, that there are circumstances on the other

side of the equation too. The targets were originally set before it was

able to move News at Ten. Of course, ITV will feel aggrieved if there’s

criticism and in some respect people do appreciate that it’s a thankless

task. The relationship between TV and its customers is often

uncomfortable. But we’re only worried because ITV is so important to us.

For it to feel that it doesn’t need input from us is worrying.’



There are many people on the agency side who have worries about the

overall shape of ITV these days. In the past, when mergers were in the

offing, it took its eye off the ball rather badly. Could that happen

again? There are also concerns that the network has been throwing money

at the programming problem, buying in Bond movies rather than

commissioning astutely.



Mick Desmond, chief executive of Granada Media, says that agencies can

continue to trust ITV - recent gains will not be squandered. He

explains: ’David Liddiment (ITV programming boss) has always been the

key figure in scheduling terms and that remains the case. Eyre’s role

has been to shield David and we will be appointing another individual in

that role as soon as we can. We now have to fight in two types of homes.

In terrestrial homes we have to keep the BBC at bay, while in the

multi-channel market we have to fight even harder, especially against

younger demographics.



’We need to rethink what constitutes a strong performance for the

network. In the past, when there weren’t targets, it was easy for

customers to criticise and for management to duck the issues.

Performance has been strong in 1999 and I think it’s a reasonable

ambition now to hold onto what we’ve got. I’d like to think that as we

rethink our targets, the dialogue with our customers will continue.’



Should they feel reassured? John Storey, group board director of Media

Audits, says a strong ITV is obviously good for the business as a whole

- and he agrees that we might have to rethink the way we measure that

strength. The future is not just about share of the peaktime audience,

but he wonders whether ITV has the boldness to take this fully on

board.



’It will be the quality of viewers’ engagement with programming that

will be the key to its success. ITV has to have a bold commissioning

policy and then promote those programmes using every media vehicle

available.’



But what of the advertisers themselves? In the past, the Incorporated

Society of British Advertisers has often been ITV’s most persistent

critic.



Are the old worries resurfacing? Bernard Balderston, UK media manager of

Procter & Gamble and chairman of ISBA’s TV action group, does not see

why that should be the case. He comments: ’I’m not surprised that ITV is

looking again at audience targets. With the rapid increase in digital,

it has become clear that the 40 per cent target is going to be

challenging.



And we would neither expect nor want ITV to sacrifice quality of

programming and audience in pursuing a 40 per cent target. What Eyre

said about audiences when he arrived needed to be said, but primetime

audiences aren’t the whole story.



’I don’t see why the relationship between advertisers and ITV has to

deteriorate. But it all depends on how they go about replacing Eyre. The

new person will bring their own ideas. It will also depend on how the

network addresses issues related to possible mergers. But the atmosphere

is better than it was. You don’t have to be Albert Einstein to work out

that when a majority of the population has at least ten channels, ITV

will struggle to maintain its audience share. But if it continues to

invest, if it continues to be pro-active and if it continues to be

flexible in its scheduling, it will continue to have advertiser support.

What we will not accept is the half-hearted complacency there was before

Eyre arrived. ITV must be seen to be trying its absolute best.’



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).