Survivor used to be a word that signalled resilience, hardiness and
irrepressibility. Over the past few weeks, though, the Survivor show has
become a metaphor for the perils of the channel that is broadcasting
this execrable tosh.
The title of this great white scheduling hope (boring people prancing
round in swimsuits on a desert island in pursuit of one million pounds)
has lent itself to a rush of almost panicky press reports questioning
whether the recent downturn in ITV's revenue sees ITV truly on the
The Survivor show symptomises all that should send ITV on to the rocks:
a creatively redundant programme, poorly packaged and without a hint of
flair. In this economic climate, with cliched belts being pulled taut
over sagging bellies, ITV's programming blunders are thrown into full
relief. But dragging Survivor and the ITV schedule into the dock to help
answer for the on-going revenue slump is spurious to say the least.
Survivor might be crap, but ITV's problems cut a lot deeper.
Last week, Granada announced a major cost-cutting restructure with 100
job losses amid confessions of a bleak ad outlook; even Corrie's lead
actors are threatening strike action over salary cuts. Carlton is
expected to follow suit with stringent cut-backs. Downturn might be
biting us all on the arse, but it's got all ITV's soft wobbly bits in
its maw and it ain't letting go.
In some respects, this is no bad thing. The channel is still stuffed
with overpaid, under-performing senior executives (true, I can only
speak with any authority here about the sales side of ITV), whose
ability to play the bastard, flex an expense account and turn in a neat
handicap on the golf course seem to be the key attributes warranting a
salary of City proportions. The downturn could be an opportunity to slay
some of the wastrels that still linger in the upper echelons, although I
suspect there'll be plenty of young footsoldiers put to the sword before
the marshalls fall under the spotlight.
Crucially, though, this should also be a catalyst that galvanises the TV
sales system to get out and not only sell Carlton or Granada - or ITV or
Channel 4 or Channel 5 - but to sell television. The ability of the TV
medium to provide a cost-effective communications solution in the midst
of belt-tightening is coming under close scrutiny and all channels are
being squeezed by contracting ad budgets. And there can be few
advertisers who aren't enjoying watching the fat cats squirm.
Yet, despite turkeys such as Survivor, TV is offering something of a
bargain right now, with airtime prices comparable to those of a year or
two back. Unless this message is driven home swiftly and sharply, other
media will sneak in with advertising alternatives that might just
continue to prove attractive once we hit upturn again. It's time for TV
sales executives to get out there and sell their medium ... a novel
experience for many.