MEDIA FORUM: Prophecies for the year ahead for the UK's media - With prediction time upon us once again, how revealing would it be to return to the same four that we asked last year? Alasdair Reid reports

This time last year we asked four industry pundits to examine their

crystal balls and we dutifully recorded what they saw in store for the

media marketplace during 2001. This year we thought it might be

instructive to revisit the same list of suspects. Instructive and,

perhaps, dangerously revealing? Not that we would stoop to ironic

reflection on the accuracy or otherwise of their predictions.



A year ago, the main worry was that we'd see yet more dotbomb

fall-out.



2000 had been a boom year thanks to the silly money being thrown about

not just by web outfits, but by cash-rich companies in the hi-tech

sector as a whole. When the bubble burst, agencies and media owners

worried not only that replacement revenues would be hard to find, but

that the Nasdaq slowdown might trigger a recession in the wider (or, if

you prefer, "real") economy.



How trivial, in hindsight, those worries seem. No-one could have

predicted the bizarre events we witnessed in the final third of 2001 -

and it would perhaps be folly to predict their effects as we move

forward into 2002.



Which is, of course, what we asked our gang of four to do.



Are they any more optimistic than they were last year? The TV market in

particular has taken a horrendous pounding, and ITV has borne the

brunt.



But surely they can now see the smallest pin-prick of light at the end

of the tunnel? After all, UK consumers have seemed oblivious to the

whole notion of a slowdown and Christmas shoppers were chucking cash

about like it was going out of fashion.



Recession, what recession? Last year, Steve Platt, the managing director

of Carlton Sales, said he was "quietly confident" about ITV revenue

projections - although he did add that, as always in an election year,

there might be peaks and troughs. You can say that again.



As in fact, he does: "We hope revenues will pick up across 2002. Talking

to agencies and advertisers there is quite a bit of cautious optimism

out there. There's no question that the revenue situation has bottomed

out and we saw money coming into the market at the tail-end of last

year. January and February are not fantastic, but it's going to be in

line with expectations. From then on I think there are positive signs. I

think the World Cup will be good news - and not just because England

will win it. We will be sensible about how we sell it."



What about the other big TV issue a year ago - the speed at which

interactive technologies were about to reinvent television advertising.

That clearly hasn't happened. Has interactive TV been quietly shelved

for the time being? Platt doesn't look at it that way at all. "We can't

cut back on that and we certainly won't be at Carlton Active. It's the

future and if we want advertisers back on television we have to be able

to offer them something above and beyond straight spot advertising. It's

one of those things that people expect from TV companies going forward,"

he states.



And what of the newspaper industry? Last year, between making

predictions about what he believed would be the dismal performance of

the Daily Express under its new owners, Guy Zitter, the managing

director of the Daily Mail, took the opportunity to make rude remarks

about Graham Duff's hair style.



This year Zitter predicts that Platt will shave his head in a solidarity

with Duff. Elsewhere, he believes that The Mirror's current owners have

no clear strategy and will sell the title. Radio will continue to

whinge. BSkyB will get stronger as the BBC will continue to give ITV "a

ratings kicking".



And what else? "A publishing group will again offer agencies shady

'kick-back' deals. All but two will reject them," he states. "The

Northern Alliance will turn out not to be a building society - but

various financial institutions will still try and float them on the

basis that their only asset, building aggregate, is more valuable than

the assets of most dotcoms. The Daily Star's circulation will overtake

the Daily Express. National newspapers' display advertising revenue will

be significantly up year on year from April. The Guardian's classified

recruitment revenue will remain buoyant, with huge responses for ads

such as 'Lesbian immigrant with experience in windscreen fouling and

bomb construction required to lead minority rights legal and social

support community counselling group'."



The tonsorial comments about Duff and Platt are a reflection of the fact

that Duff, who last year was the chief executive of Zenith Media, has

now jumped ship to ITV, where he is the chief executive of Granada

Enterprises.



Duff's predictions a year ago turned out to be closest to the mark - for

a start he was sceptical about ITV revenue projections. He also thought

that BBC commercialism would become an increasing issue and was

pessimistic about whether government legislation would help put the Beeb

"back in its box". And so it turned out.



But do things look any more optimistic from where he sits this year?



A little bit, he reveals: "Industry commentators and City analysts alike

seem to agree that the 2002 media marketplace could move slowly, but the

UK economy remains fairly robust and cautious optimism, particularly as

the year progresses, appears appropriate. Parochially, it is hard to

deny that there were a few disappointing aspects to ITV's 2001 audience

performance. As always, the considerable successes have been somewhat

overlooked, but I look forward to the gathering momentum from ITV's

marketing and scheduling as Jim Hytner (network marketing director) and

David Bergg (highly respected, ex-BBC scheduling specialist who joined

ITV Network Centre back in the autumn) settle into their new roles."



Last year, Douglas McArthur, the chief executive of the Radio

Advertising Bureau, foresaw "significant progress" for digital radio.

He'll not make that mistake again, will he? Well, actually, it wasn't a

mistake as it turns out. There was progress in digital last year - it's

just that it didn't impact on the consumer market in time. But 2001 saw

the development of a miniature Digital Audio Broadcasting electronic

chip, which means that portable digital radio sets are now an imminent

mass-market reality.



And that's not all. The future, he claims, looks good for radio across

the board. He explains: "Unlike other mass media, radio will continue to

grow its audience as we benefit from non-TV, screen-based activity.

Since 1999, radio's total listening hours have grown by 12 per cent and

by almost 20 per cent on weekday evenings. At-work listening has also

increased significantly. Radio will therefore be increasing the supply

for advertisers and our share of broadcast revenue will increase beyond

its current 15 per cent figure."



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