Anthony Sethill doesn’t want to talk about himself. So stop reading
now if you want to know what his favourite tipple is, where he goes on
holiday, his taste in clothes, or even about his sex life.
The new marketing director of British Digital Broadcasting doesn’t even
want to discuss his career. He’s here to talk about his plans for BDB
and the reasons for the appointment of Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO, New PHD
and Clarke Hooper as the agencies that will help him realise them
(Campaign, 13 February).
Such self-effacement does not surprise Andrew Robertson, the managing
director of AMV. ’Anthony is clearly not a flash marketing ligger who’s
out to build his own profile. He is a thoughtful, intelligent strategist
and an imaginative tactician,’ he says.
Having sharpened my best ego-pricking pencil, I can’t deny it’s a
disappointment to find there’s no ego to be pricked. Sethill has the
appearance of someone who, as a boy, was the well-groomed swot who
always came top in physics and maths. Not the sort who got bullied, just
In later life, of course, this quiet single-mindedness has propelled our
hero into such an elevated position that it is no longer possible to
ignore him. Sethill now has at least pounds 20 million to spend on
introducing the nation to what he describes as ’the future of the heart
of British TV’.
What journalists and industry observers would call digital ’terrestrial’
TV, Sethill prefers to call ’mainstream’. While his satellite and cable
rivals talk up interactvity and video-on-demand as the key benefits of
digital, Sethill is quite clear that BDB is in the business of
’broadcast TV’, and that the three secrets to its success will be
’programming, programming and programming’. The flashy bolt-on bits may
well appear later - but only if the consumer wants them.
Which is fine, except that the key programming at his disposal will be
the same as that of his rivals.
Essentially, BDB will use Sky’s sports and movies to drive subscriptions
to a service that will also offer themed channels and re-runs from the
BBC, Carlton, Granada and Flextech.
The familiarity of the names is one ace in Sethill’s possession; but a
single card does not make a hand. Given that everyone will have access
to sport and movies, what will make BDB so special?
’Why does someone drive to Tesco not Sainsbury’s?’ he responds. ’They
stock the same product. What matters is their approaches to how they
deliver that to the consumer.’
In other words, brand values - so step forward, AMV. Not that it was
just the ad agency that impressed Sethill: the ability of all three
group companies that pitched to deliver a through-the-line solution was
Sethill identifies New PHD’s ’strategic’ media credentials and Clarke
Hooper’s ’pragmatism’ as the keys to their success. The latter will have
a crucial role to play, liaising with electronics retailers, through
which much of the educational side of the campaign will be
As for the glitzy branding drive, AMV and Sethill have yet to come up
with the ’big idea’. But BDB will play off what he still believes to be
the downmarket perception of Sky. ’I don’t want to be the Sun on TV,’ he
says, quickly adding, however, that he does want Sun readers to
This upmarket but mainstream tack should also tap into mainly
middle-class Murdoch-haters and those who find the idea of installing a
satellite dish on the side of their house aesthetically pleasing.
Converting these people - and those who cannot physically receive
satellite or cable - is the focus.
The brand name itself has still to be decided. It may be BDB, but it
seems more likely that BDB will be a company that owns a brand with a
rather snazzier name. Whatever it is will ’remain a secret for a very
long time,’ Sethill says. It’s to be hoped that viewers know the name
before the end of the year, because otherwise digital terrestrial will
be late in arriving. The set-top box manufacturers have still to get the
go-ahead on production - although this is said to be imminent.
One other possible BDB trump card Sethill looks set to discard, however,
is price. Tempting as it may be to drive take-up by heavily undercutting
the pounds 30-pounds 40 cable and satellite monthly subscription rates,
Sethill says: ’If the sole reason for your existence is price, it
catches up with you.
It’s a short-term strategy. We’ll be comparable with the competition and
offer value for money.’
Sethill knows all about the perils of short-term, price-led marketing
from his days working as marketing manager at Alan Sugar’s Amstrad in
the late 80s. ’We had a fantastic record of success, almost unparalleled
even today,’ he says. ’Then we went through a period of decline.
But if you’ve only ever lived in a successful environment, there’s going
to be a gap in your education.’
That early experience of selling satellite dishes at the dawn of the
Murdoch revolution explains Sethill’s position at the centre of the next
one. But his knowledge of how to cope with the hard times that followed
should prove more valuable in the early days at BDB, which he knows will
be no picnic.