OPINION: ITV needs new approach in hard times for advertisers - Audience fragmentation was an inevitable result of the growing competition in television. ITV is in need of a strong leader if it is to move forward. By Roy Warman

ITV has been losing share as the viewing choices increase. This should not have come as a surprise to anyone. Yet it seems to me that the debates about ITV and the Network Centre have not changed very much.

ITV has been losing share as the viewing choices increase. This

should not have come as a surprise to anyone. Yet it seems to me that

the debates about ITV and the Network Centre have not changed very

much.



Because of the internal workings of the network, the battle for

scheduling slots, the long-term battle for share and the fixation on the

’internal’ market, the broader sales context has been forgotten. The

debate about the current state of affairs carries on as if in a vacuum,

while the issue of value for advertisers in the broader media market

seems to have taken a back seat.



One angle on the argument which is particularly baffling is the notion

that increasing the available minutage, as suggested by the Institute of

Practitioners in Advertising, is a solution to the problem.



This seems an attractive option, but does it do anything to address the

fundamental problems facing ITV? The answer has to be no.



Even if, in the short term, increased minutage shifts the way in which

the supply-and-demand equation works, it won’t be long before the

manipulation of supply becomes the order of the day again.



The artificial maintenance of price is the only way the sales houses can

operate on behalf of their clients without losing share and credibility,

because they aren’t in control of the creation of audiences. I’m not

attacking the sales houses but I am criticising the system.



In order to find a way of addressing the problem of declining audiences,

of offering value to advertisers and of finding new ways of linking the

medium to the message, it’s time the whole system was re-examined in the

light of today’s market.



The Network Centre needs to reflect ITV’s competitive environment today,

instead of spending so much of its time administrating and refereeing

between the individual companies.



It should be representing the network competitively with other

media.



It should be viewing scheduling with an eye to maximising audience share

against the competition. It should be ensuring that ITV as a whole has

maximum clout in negotiating major programming deals which deliver

audiences that advertisers want to buy into.



The individual companies need to be realistic about the targets they set

for the sales houses, and express those targets in terms that are

relevant to today’s more competitive market.



Perhaps a major study should be undertaken by the industry to help

decide what is an achievable share of all ad revenue in the light of a

changing media market and forecast audience levels. This would set the

base for external and internal battles for revenue.



This study would, of course, make certain assumptions about audience

levels nationally and locally. I sometimes wonder if the years of share

battles and equal-impact buying have left ITV unable to look at the

world through anything but parochial eyes.



So what’s to be done? ITV needs a strong Network Centre, led by someone

who understands how to schedule to win better audiences, who understands

the commercial imperative from the Centre and who knows how to make

programming work together with sales. Someone who can do battle with the

rest of the world on behalf of ITV and who might be listened to by all

the internal factions. Someone who can get to grips with the important

London scheduling in a way that benefits ITV versus the rest, not on a

weekday versus weekend basis.



So who is this paragon? I can only think of two who come close. So, come

on ITV, make Michael Grade or Greg Dyke an offer one of them can’t

refuse.



Whatever the price, if he gets it right it’ll be cheap.