MEDIA: FORUM; Is ITV’s ‘toy deal’ a thinly disguised network sell?

ITV sales houses have begun marketing the merits of the network to toy advertisers - and some agencies maintain that this is effectively a network sell. Should they welcome the fact that the ITV companies appear to be co-operating? Alasdair Reid considers whether this is merely the thin end of the wedge for advertisers

ITV sales houses have begun marketing the merits of the network to toy

advertisers - and some agencies maintain that this is effectively a

network sell. Should they welcome the fact that the ITV companies appear

to be co-operating? Alasdair Reid considers whether this is merely the

thin end of the wedge for advertisers



Back in February, Steve Platt, the sales director of Carlton UK Sales,

went to the New York Toy Fair - the industry’s biggest beanfeast and the

best place to meet the people that matter. Surprisingly, given the fact

that toy advertisers have big advertising budgets, it was the first time

that anyone from an ITV company had ever attended.



Even more surprising, at least for some observers, was the fact that

Platt’s lapel badge seemed to indicate that he was a sales

representative acting on behalf of ITV. What was going on? Was Carlton

surreptitiously offering network deals to the big multinational toy

advertisers?



ITV needs a new source of daytime revenue to compensate for large

reductions in Procter and Gamble’s daytime TV budgets. What better place

to look than GMTV and its attractive array of toy advertisers? Those

advertisers are used to one-stop shopping. Obviously the best way to

attract them is to pitch on a network basis.



And, yes, advertisers have indeed been shifting money out of GMTV and

into CITV, the network’s dedicated children’s slot that runs from 3.30pm

to 5pm on weekdays. Some agencies say that sales points have been

marketing the benefits of CITV as a network buy, even if they can’t

actually sign network deals. But sales houses can offer advertisers a

discount if they agree to use all ITV regions.



Is this a development that advertisers and agencies should welcome? It

makes sense for ITV to offer incentives to use the network as a whole.

Currently the three sales houses still spend much of their energy

competing against each other rather than against their real competitors.



But it could be the thin end of the wedge. What works for CITV could

also work for the 9.30am to 1pm ‘coffee time’ slot and for airtime in

post peak. And anyway, isn’t any form of ITV network selling illegal?



Clive Crouch, the sales director of GMTV, certainly thinks so: ‘It is my

understanding that ITV is not allowed to sell airtime on a network basis

and I assume that this will be dealt with by the Independent Television

Commission as it was last time.’



The ‘last time’ was back in 1993, when ITV made tentative steps towards

selling some of its day parts on a network basis and received an ITC

reprimand for its troubles. But back then it was more overt and more of

a formalised sell. Things are different this time. The ITC has already

indicated that ITV is breaching perhaps the spirit - if not the letter -

of the law.



Martin Bowley, the managing director of Carlton UK Sales, can’t

understand the fuss. ‘This is straightforward,’ he explains. ‘Against

kids, the GMTV price has become high compared with ours. We have been

taking diddley-squat from toy advertisers. Steve Platt went to New York

and took the event seriously - while everyone else was in the bar he was

actually talking to advertisers. Everyone knows that these are national

advertisers. If they want to use Carlton, they will want to use ITV as a

whole and vice-versa.



‘There are no network deals being done. Each advertiser buys its airtime

in individual deals with individual sales points. It is up to each sales

point to negotiate with the advertiser as to the contents of each deal.’



Bowley says that agencies and advertisers should be pleased that ITV is

demonstrating its determination to compete aggressively. ‘We are getting

our act together across a whole range of activities,’ he insists. ‘We

sometimes take flak from agencies and advertisers saying we could do

more for them. I hope we’re not going to be criticised for getting our

act together on the marketing side and fighting back. For toy

advertisers, ITV is cheaper than GMTV. Carlton is certainly going to

make the most of that. I don’t think you should be surprised to find

other sales houses trying to do the same.’



Alan James, the broadcast director of Mattel’s media specialist, the

Network, also can’t see what the problem is. He confirms that Mattel is

shifting money out of GMTV and on to ITV. ‘You don’t have to be a genius

to work out why money is shifting,’ he points out. ‘GMTV had a poor

autumn. Its kids impacts were down by 20 per cent at the very worst time

of year, November, when toy advertisers spend a large proportion of

their yearly budgets. GMTV ended 1995 unable to meet its deals and has

been charging more for its airtime this year.



‘All the ITV sales points have been telling us that ITV is a good

property - and they have a case. Carlton may have been making more

effort than the other sales points but I can’t see a problem if the

network benefits. The point you have to understand about toy advertisers

is that they are national advertisers. If they go on one ITV region,

they go on them all.’



Russell Boyman, the broadcast director of Mediastar, is less convinced.

‘We are firmly against the consolidation of trading into bigger units,’

he states. ‘However, in certain markets, I can see that an ITV network

sell makes sense all round. In coffee time, ITV has a hard job because

it has a fragmented proposition and competition from GMTV, which offers

good value. In late night, it has a similar problem with competition

from Channel 4 and satellite. Providing they are offering good value, I

see no problem in approaching certain advertisers - targeting, say,

mothers in coffee time or lager drinkers in late night and offering

those segments as a national sell.’



Boyman concedes that we should not be surprised that ITV is finally

marketing itself as an entity, but he insists that a line must be drawn:

‘ITV couldn’t be allowed to sell segments across the board on a one-stop

basis only. It must not be allowed to abuse its position any more than

it already has. In the market segments we’re talking about here, the

buyer has plenty of choice should ITV choose to flex its corporate

muscles. For advertisers, more competition has to be a good thing if it

brings down prices. But a network sell must be restricted to relatively

non-sensitive areas.’



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