Media Perspective: Is the public service debate stifling sales innovation in UK TV?

Last week's ITV strategy update seemed to bring few surprises to the buying community. Except perhaps the announcement that it wants to increase ITV.com's revenues to £150 million by 2010.

Five-year projections on programming and audience improvements were treated with an "ask me in five years' time" response by TV buyers, but the scepticism that it could reach the online target was palpable. Mainly because it's felt that ITV still has a way to go in successfully selling online content, but also because it faces the problem of creating innovative online properties for advertisers to back.

Hot on the heels of the ITV announcement came the Royal Television Society convention in Cambridge. Peter Chernin, the president of News Corporation and Rupert Murdoch's right-hand man, warmed to the subject of broadcasters living or dying by their development of content across new platforms. "In the not distant past, we created content for a bored, passive audience hungry for whatever we fed to them. Today's audiences are demanding and distracted and forcing us to be edgy and distinctive all the time," he said.

ITV is well aware of this and it will be interesting to see if it flourishes online. Worryingly, perhaps, for TV companies the most interesting vision of the future was provided by a video games company, with John Riccitello, the chief executive of Electronic Arts, outlining his commercial and content goals. Riccitello may have spent much of his time in Cambridge ducking brickbats hurled at the video games industry by the likes of ITV's Michael Grade, but he was also able to supply a clear vision of his company's future following recent sales declines.

EA, Riccitello says, is looking at a new model which involves not selling games to consumers, but making them available for free online and then charging for updates and modifications as gamers play. This follows a successful trial in South Korea where a Fifa Football product was made available for free and gamers paid for updates as they played. This netted more profit, according to Riccitello, than conventional retailing of its product and is a model that can also be applied to other sports franchises and to games including The Sims.

A slice of the future as consumers pay as they go for tailored content and provides a possible way of ensuring EA's survival. It also supplied evidence that EA is taking on board trends in its business linked to there being greater numbers of female gamers, a growing demand for "casual" gaming and for simpler products that don't take two days to master. It will be interesting to see if UK broadcasters eventually evolve similarly ambitious models for their own survival. A difficult challenge when they're all caught up in the seemingly endless and ever complex debate about public service broadcasting.