MEDIA: Is ITV’s new order winning advertisers around? ITV is still luxuriating in the honeymoon period granted to Richard Eyre and his new regime at the Network Centre. Will the season of goodwill last beyond this week’s TV 98 get-together

For the first time in recent memory, senior ITV executives preparing to head off to a major television conference are in two minds about whether to pack their tin hats. Better safe than sorry, you might think - on the other hand, it might be worth leaving them behind. Especially if you gain extra luggage room for more duty free.

For the first time in recent memory, senior ITV executives

preparing to head off to a major television conference are in two minds

about whether to pack their tin hats. Better safe than sorry, you might

think - on the other hand, it might be worth leaving them behind.

Especially if you gain extra luggage room for more duty free.



Usually, network bosses travel certain in the knowledge that they’re

about to get ambushed by a mob of very angry advertisers. These

get-togethers often coincide with airtime inflation hitting record

levels and someone within ITV deciding to make a bid for the Henry

Kissinger award for diplomacy.



That’s diplomacy as in antagonism, likely to lead to the outbreak of

armed conflict.



Surefire red-rag successes in the past include a ’crisis what crisis?’

insouciance over audience levels; a whispering campaign that advertisers

are basically neurotic and don’t really know what they’re talking about;

and refusals to back advertiser campaigns to increase the length of ad

breaks. This year, things are likely to be different - largely because

hardly any advertisers are going to the TV 98 conference taking place in

Barcelona this week. Instead, they all went to the Incorporated Society

of British Advertisers annual policy conference last week.



The mood there wasn’t exactly ugly but it wasn’t exactly peace, love and

understanding either. Advertisers are still worried about long-term

inflation trends across the whole television market; still unhappy at

ITV arrogance; and still fretting that no-one will take them seriously

over the longer ad breaks issue. But that aside, and taking a broader

perspective, the climate for ITV is rather favourable at present.

Richard Eyre’s regime at the ITV Network Centre is enjoying an extended

honeymoon period. Its targets, published recently, met with widespread

approval.



The market believes ITV can reinvent itself, throwing out its ’managing

decline’ philosophy.



So we can expect fewer fireworks this spring than we’ve been used

to.



Can’t we? Steve Platt, the managing director of Carlton UK Sales, is

optimistic: ’Not because we’re unconcerned about advertisers’ concerns,

but because it isn’t very productive when these become a big ’let’s kick

ITV around’ session. I’m not saying that advertisers didn’t have the

right to express their views about inflation and audience levels a year

ago. But the message now should be very clear - we’ve done something

about it. There’s a new team in place, not just at the top, but all the

way down. I just hope we get credit for the way we’ve responded to

criticism. Of course it’s early days yet, but I think it’s apparent that

we’ve done all the right things. I hope they get behind us.’



Platt believes the minutage issue has now gone away and doesn’t see many

contentious issues in the market at present. ’In the past year, Channel

5 has arrived and it hasn’t done very much - it certainly hasn’t

performed as they said it would. Channel 4 continues to bob along and

Sky isn’t setting the world alight. Digital is on the horizon and ITV

has taken that on board, but it’s not going to be much of a revenue

generator from a spot advertising point of view. It’s the future, but to

think about it in any detail is difficult.’



John Billett, the chief executive of the Billett Consultancy, echoes

some of that. But he believes that the honeymoon period is quickly

coming to an end. ’The notion until recently was that competition in the

TV market was in the best interests of advertisers. People have begun to

realise that competition can increase rather than decrease inflation.

What we want to see is ITV gaining ground against the BBC. I think

there’s a feeling that ITV needs our moral support.



’But advertisers can’t ignore what is being offered by other commercial

channels. Richard Eyre has a faster job to do to satisfy advertisers

than they perhaps previously thought. If they don’t deliver very soon,

the ITV sales houses will come under a lot of pressure because already

the network is trading precariously against some audiences.’



Last year, there was much debate about trading mechanisms, especially

the use of station average price to reconcile deals. Has that now

diminished in importance? Billett argues that the argument has evolved.

’Station average price will never go away as a trading mechanism - the

real issue is how you benchmark against it. What we’ve seen in the past

couple of years is advertisers who thought they were doing well against

station average were actually behind prevailing levels. Our role is to

point that out to advertisers.’



And Tony Wheble, vice-president of advertising sales at Flextech

Television, argues that the pressure is still on ITV. ’I think as we

head towards the end of the first quarter, all eyes will be on ITV’s

share of the market.



Remember all the fuss there was a few months back about ITV sales houses

trying to bully advertisers into doing share-of-broadcast deals? We

haven’t heard much since, but I think we’re about to find out what

really happened in the marketplace.



’I think they will have lost share. ITV will say that you can’t judge

anything on the first quarter and argue that the major advertisers are

holding off until the World Cup this summer. There might be a little bit

of truth in that, but my prediction is that ITV will not only have lost

share over the first three months but will continue to lose share this

year.’



Simon Rees, the deputy managing director of TMD Carat, believes digital

is the biggest issue facing the market. ’Yes, it will take time to build

penetration,’ he admits. ’But it is relevant because even if you are

looking at it from an advertising perspective, an opportunity is an

opportunity even if it’s only there in a small way. With digital, the

nature of the technology is such that advertisers will be looking to

talk on a one-to-one basis with consumers. And we must be aware that

things are likely to move quickly. ’



He also believes the market should begin preparing itself for a

fundamental structural upheaval. ’We’ve been reading recently about the

creation of even larger buying points. If that happens, the market will

have to change.



Scale is usually a major factor in terms of market evolution.’