MEDIA PERSPECTIVE: Blaming the war is just the latest ruse for denying reality

The old cliche has it that the first casualty of war is the truth. And recent announcements and declarations from the media industry seem to bear this out.

A prime example came last week when the Granada chairman, Charles Allen, had to brave the lions' den of the company's AGM to defend its lacklustre performance (not to mention his own questionable remuneration arrangements).

In a bid to mollify shareholders baying for executive blood, Allen summoned all his powers of persuasion and mounted a heartfelt justification for disappointing ad revenue forecasts. It was a predictable defence: the forecasts were adversely affected by advertisers pulling spend because of the conflict in Iraq.

So far so good, but what followed was interesting: his colleagues from the coalface of ITV sales moved quickly to present an alternative version of events. While not denying that the present state of the TV market was poor, they argued that in fact only a few advertisers in a few sectors - oil companies, airlines and the like - had chosen to defer campaigns. The overall effect on advertising revenue would be minimal.

So who do we believe? It seems that the nature of Allen's job demands that he appease shareholders rather than address a deeper malaise that his sales teams appear to be telling him about.

And it's not just the TV industry that is using the Iraq conflict to hide, or at least disguise, the truth. Some are even using it in an attempt to conjure up a completely new version of reality.

For instance, Viacom Outdoor has come up with a wheeze that suggests the outdoor industry is going to enjoy bumper revenues because advertisers are moving away from press and TV to a potentially less troublesome medium. After all, who wants their commercial message to be associated with images of dead children and soldiers in body bags on TV or in the newspapers?

Fair enough, you may think, and this may appear to confirm Allen's claims.

But given the lead times that advertisers and agencies need if they are going down a completely different creative route, there is unlikely to be time for Viacom to cash in.

Much more likely is that Viacom Outdoor, along with the other outdoor media owners, has a surfeit of inventory that it would very much like to fill up.

The real problem seems to be this very short-term nature of the ad market. Of course the war has injected a degree of uncertainty into advertising plans, but then they were never very concrete in the first place.

Gulf War II has joined the list of excuses, along with the World Cup and the Queen's Jubilee, that the media industry has dreamed up to deny to itself and the advertising world the realities of the wider economic picture.

- Ian Darby is away.

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