Media: A Moment with Marquis

Never one for the subtle understatement, Sir Alan Sugar claims he hasn't watched a TV ad in a year. Too busy making them, presumably, and - oh, thank you, Sir Alan - donating the fee to Great Ormond Street.

Perhaps he has Sky+ because, as everyone else with it knows, once you have that remote control complete with fast-forward button in your hot little hand, you always skip the ad breaks. Big problem.

Whether, as Sir Alan also declares, the TV ad is dead, I am not so sure.

Decent TV ads get through whatever the obstacle, as a thousand tracking studies show, and will surely do so for some time to come.

But he's basically right. The old TV advertising model is no more. Long gone is the time when a monster spot in the middle of Coronation Street got more than half your target audience in one hit.

Audiences aren't captive any more - they're free-range. And once digital is the only choice in a few years' time, it is a possibility (and therefore a likelihood) that most viewers will watch what they want when they want it - without ads. And what do we suppose will happen to ad breaks when we watch TV on broadband?

All of which underlines the need for TV's marketing body, Thinkbox, to do rather a lot of serious and urgent thinking - preferably outside the proverbial box. Thank goodness they've woken up to the need for some permanent firepower in the shape of a chief executive. If it's good enough for radio, internet, outdoor and newspapers, a properly resourced marketing organisation must be good for television too.

I'm not sure we'll want to hear all that guff about impact, colour, sound and movement again. It's pretty obvious telly's got all those things if you happen to look at it once in a while. What Thinkbox needs to tackle is how marketers can use this awesomely powerful medium in an environment in which advertising is no more than optional for the viewer. This means thinking about - then promoting - TV as the commercial broadcasters have not had to do: in a multimedia context, a digital world, a consumer-controlled environment, a marketing era in which return on investment is a given, not a nice-to-have.

This won't be easy but it is imperative. If the television companies don't square up to helping solve this problem, rather than leaving it to others, they will one day wake up to find that someone has stolen the commercial break - their bread and butter for 50 profitable years.

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