MEDIA FORUM: Is TV denying mainstream clients prime airtime? Mainstream advertisers may be getting a raw deal from TV companies these days. A report published last week implies that the game has moved on and some clients - including those who are among th

The latest report from the Billett Consultancy seems to be implying that there’s a rather pernicious class system evolving in the television airtime market, with advertisers targeting women or older people being treated like second-class citizens. Many observers have always suspected that the advertising industry tends to favour only the beautiful people, but according to the Billett study, this strategy isn’t down to some ageist blind prejudice. And we’re not exactly talking chair-lift advertisers here - we’re talking about mainstream, the ones that target mass audiences.

The latest report from the Billett Consultancy seems to be implying

that there’s a rather pernicious class system evolving in the television

airtime market, with advertisers targeting women or older people being

treated like second-class citizens. Many observers have always suspected

that the advertising industry tends to favour only the beautiful people,

but according to the Billett study, this strategy isn’t down to some

ageist blind prejudice. And we’re not exactly talking chair-lift

advertisers here - we’re talking about mainstream, the ones that target

mass audiences.



Advertisers in growth sectors like telecoms are specific about their

target audience - it’s young and largely male. Only certain types of

airtime are appropriate to them, so television companies tend to

schedule their airtime first. Way at the back of the queue come the FMCG

advertisers who are actually the medium’s most loyal supporters.



Because all sorts of airtime can be appropriate to them, they don’t have

to make really picky demands about the programming they need. And

because they are easiest to schedule by the TV contractors they are

therefore scheduled last. As a consequence, they tend to get some pretty

unattractive airtime.



This process, by which advertiser demands are prioritised and airtime

allocated in the most efficient way possible, is computerised these days

and the system is called ’optimisation’. The problem, according to the

Billett document, is compounded by another type of optimisation carried

out by media specialists. Called the agency deal, this involves buyers

committing to take a certain amount of airtime from a broadcaster and

then trying to find the right home for it among its portfolio of

clients.



Somewhere along the way, says John Billett, chairman of the Billett

Consultancy, TV’s best customers are being sold short. He states:

’Television has to appeal to a broad range of clients and it’s not in

anyone’s interest to see well-established advertisers being pushed off.

The medium may have to offer them bigger discounts to tempt them back.

What we’ve been seeing is that this is not an even playing field.’



But hang on a minute. When was the airtime market ever fair? Isn’t it

like most things - don’t you tend to get exactly what you pay for? After

all, isn’t everything negotiable? Surely we’re just talking about lazy

advertisers who’ve allowed commodity thinking to permeate their planning

and buying. Don’t they deserve everything they get?



Billett responds: ’They may be getting what they negotiate but not what

they are entitled to. You might negotiate for 25 per cent centre breaks

when in fact you can get 40 per cent if you know how, because there are

many advertisers, especially those chasing young male audiences, pushing

harder than others. All I am doing is airing these issues in public. I

am saying that you have to know how the system works these days. You

must make sure you are getting what you want by design rather than by

default.’



Is it true that in the wide scheme of things, mainstream advertisers

deserve better? Are the new converts to TV treated better than the old

faithful followers? Mick Desmond, the chief executive of Granada Media,

doesn’t think so. He states: ’It’s true that we have become extremely

sophisticated at maximising our product. I think it’s also true that

what we’ve been seeing is a large influx of clients which are

male-biased and which will not be buying weekday dayparts. But it is our

job to deliver audiences by demographics and most of the buying points

have optimisation systems that are just as sophisticated as ours. It’s

always the case that good buyers will do better than not so good

buyers.’



And the people who should really take care, Desmond says, are the

advertisers who buy ratings packages on satellite, where it’s common to

see products aimed at adults scheduled on to children’s channels.



The report seemed to draw a far more heated reaction from the buying

community, some of who were tempted to question the role and primary

motivation of auditing companies like the Billett Consultancy. ’They

trade on fear and do anything to sell their services to clients by

creating worries that are usually groundless,’ one said. Another source

who declined to take part in Forum, stated: ’Those who can, do; those

who can’t, teach.’



Ground-breaking research that would help produce better media buying

will always be welcomed. But according to Chris Locke, the joint

managing director of MediaVest, words like ’grandmother, eggs and suck’

spring to mind when you read this latest report. He adds: ’We buy

programmes; contractors sell audiences. This is not a new dichotomy. It

is unusual for a TV plan to have only one target audience and agencies

are well versed in developing plans which target, for example, ABC1

adults biased towards 16-to 24-year-old males, even though they will

only deal against ABC1s as a whole. We are used to pretending to buy

apples when we want oranges.



Daypart, day of week, channel mix, specific programme access and

repetition - or lack of - can and are built into TV deals.’



Locke insists that plans are called plans because they are precisely

that - media specialists do not stumble into TV activity. Everything is

carefully thought out and optimised before negotiations begin. He does

concede, however, that clients targeting a broad audience do find it

hard to justify being choosy about their airtime while still hitting

their audience targets. ’That’s the reason most brands buy a

sub-audience or audiences. There will always be some point of conflict,

but the key is in setting the communications targets and aims, as much

as in the actual buying.’



Tom George, a managing partner of Zenith Media, agrees with some aspects

of the report. But he states: ’Contractors have become very good at

optimising schedules to generate the most amount of revenue. But you

make an assessment about the schedule you are given and the cost of it,

and make a judgment accordingly. It is our job to address precisely

those concerns.’



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

Become a member

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).