MEDIA SPOTLIGHT ON: ITV2 - ITV’s digital sister tries fresh approach to woo advertisers. ITV2 launches next month without the baggage of ITV sales, Alasdair Reid writes

’ITV to introduce flexible sales arrangements’. Flexible? ITV? Surely some mistake. But don’t panic - this isn’t ITV as in the UK’s premier commercial television network, but ITV2, the network’s new digital channel scheduled to launch on 7 December.

’ITV to introduce flexible sales arrangements’. Flexible? ITV?

Surely some mistake. But don’t panic - this isn’t ITV as in the UK’s

premier commercial television network, but ITV2, the network’s new

digital channel scheduled to launch on 7 December.



Network bosses were looking to whip up some interest and they obviously

realised that this flexibility claim is the easiest way to get jaws to

drop and heads to turn.



’ITV2’s sales policy will be straightforward and user friendly. Just

like me,’ declared Steve Platt, the managing director of Carlton UK

Sales, at the channel’s launch presentation. Platt will head an ITV2

sales committee that will also include members from the other two sales

houses, Granada Mediasales and TSMS.



The big innovation is that ITV2 will not be using the industry’s

increasingly outdated trading mechanism, station average price. Instead,

the network will embrace fixed prices, guaranteed ratings packages - or

indeed, any sane system that agencies care to propose. In fact, many of

the concessions that some advertisers have recently been calling

for.



So how big a deal is this? Will ITV2 be a testing ground for new trading

methods across the whole spectrum of ITV airtime? Are buyers ready to

form a queue?



That will depend largely on how good the channel is in audience

terms.



And it has one thing going for it. When you factor in partial cable

distribution, ITV2 will be available in 30 per cent of homes from day

one. That’s the equivalent of the current combined cable and satellite

audience and gives it a head start compared to most recent ’new media’

launches.



It will be aimed at a slightly younger and more male-biased audience

than ITV1 and will offer opportunities to see big ITV1 programmes a

second time, as well as providing a nursery for new ideas in much the

same way as BBC2 does for its big brother.



Platt certainly thinks that buyers should be enthusiastic. ’The fact

that it has ITV mass behind it allows us to produce a schedule that’s

stronger than a lot of the stuff in the marketplace. And we can be a bit

more innovative on the advertising side. We can encourage people to talk

to us about advertiser-funded programming and we may offer themed days

or weeks or experiment with the structure of ad breaks.’



Nick Theakstone, head of broadcast at MediaVest, confesses that he’s

’not mega excited’ but that would change if ITV2 started to deliver on

the audience front. ’I like the idea of catch-up TV and the way that it

will allow the network to experiment with programming as the BBC does

with BBC2. In the long term, it will be very useful for everyone.



It makes absolute sense to deal in fixed prices and distance it from the

station average price system. It’s also a smart move to separate it on

the sales side with an eye to moving to a dedicated sales team once

everyone sees how digital works out.’



The thing that worries some buyers is that this separation will be

either transitory or illusory. Will ITV seek to twist a few arms to

encourage support of ITV2? Or will they use the new channel’s inventory

to make up shortfalls in ITV airtime deals?



No way, Platt says: ’People buy ITV for big audiences. They would not

find it acceptable to be paid back in ITV2 airtime. By next autumn,

there will be a separate ITV2 sales team based at the Network Centre and

I wouldn’t want to burden it with a load of baggage in its first year -

because by next year it will hopefully be a fairly decent-sized

channel.



’It’s not just a cable channel - its growth will depend on the growth of

digital. The way we look at it, this is the launch of the UK’s sixth

terrestrial channel. It’s as important as that.’



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