Media: Behind the hype - Research is the key to marketing TV as a medium

Marketing TV as a medium will take commitment and unity, Claire Murphy writes.

It seems that the TV industry has finally got its act together enough to start planning a joint push to promote the medium to marketers and media buyers.

After some delay, a consortium of broadcasters including ITV, Channel 4, five and Sky last week appointed The Ingram Partnership to carry out initial research into what clients want from them.

Andy Barnes, the sales director at Channel 4, says that the group, which is being led by the sales directors of all the broadcasters involved, is still at very early stages: "We sat around a table together and tried to come up with a clear idea of what we wanted to do. There was no common sense of what should be done, so we've commissioned The Ingram Partnership to talk to buyers, planners and clients to discover what they want from us."

Good news surely, both for broadcasters and for their clients? Maybe.

But the news was greeted with a fair amount of scepticism by the media buying community.

"It's not as if this subject hasn't been raised in the past," one senior agency executive says. "If they can concentrate on the selling of TV rather than internecine warfare, that would be good."

Competition among ITV companies has in the past obscured the need to promote the medium as a whole. Although ITV tried the job in 2002 with its TV Matters initiative, it ran out of steam. Now however, with a merged Granada and Carlton running ITV Sales, there is a clear market leader to provide some impetus to the drive.

But Mark Jarvis, the head of media at Carat, warns the group that they must be prepared to put sufficient resources behind the initiative. "This is a step in the right direction. But they need to get time, money and appropriate people on producing some sound research."

Funding for the initiative will be based on each company's share of ad revenue, with the larger companies contributing more. However, all votes are equal when it comes to making decisions.

There is certainly enough of a precedent, as well as some useful places to steal ideas, for the promotion of individual media. The Radio Advertising Bureau is widely respected for its work getting radio accepted as a mainsteam ad medium.

But the fledgling Newspaper Marketing Agency serves as a useful cautionary tale. Although the NMA has performed solidly enough in its first year, it emerged last week that Express Newspapers and Independent News & Media are now contributing smaller amounts of funding than other newspaper partners, creating the potential for resentment among the rest of the members.

Despite this, no-one is disputing that the medium needs promoting. Although still the largest single medium, TV has suffered in recent years as money has flown into what are perceived to be more cost-effective and measurable media such as direct mail and the internet.

TV took 28 per cent of adspend in 1999 and this had fallen to 25.4 per cent by last year.

So can TV replicate the success of the RAB in growing radio as a medium?

Nick Theakstone, the head of investment at MindShare, believes it is a winnable battle. "The desire from clients for return on investment data is now strong. Broadcasters need to commission some solid research justifying the value of the TV, including how it interacts with other media."

But, like Jarvis, Theakstone warns that the broadcasters need to commit to resourcing the initiative. "This is a positive move. But we need to feel comfortable that they are truly committed to this venture."

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