PERSPECTIVE: Advertiser-funded television gets off to a dubious start

The penultimate day of 1996 saw the first major advertiser-funded programme: BT’s Now We’re Talking, presented by a smug, shiny-faced Philip Schofield. Forget the Internet, the launch of Channel 5 or whether Steve Henry should direct ads, this is the most significant happening in adland for years.

The penultimate day of 1996 saw the first major advertiser-funded

programme: BT’s Now We’re Talking, presented by a smug, shiny-faced

Philip Schofield. Forget the Internet, the launch of Channel 5 or

whether Steve Henry should direct ads, this is the most significant

happening in adland for years.



It is a considerable achievement that Adrian Hosford and his team at BT

TalkWorks (see article, left) got it on air at all. Hosford, a likeable

and able man, has been ultimately responsible for much that has been

good about BT’s marketing over recent years.



That said, what did this advertiser-funded programme achieve? What was

in it for BT? A programme about how we communicate is a logical leap

from the ’it’s good to talk’ campaign which aims to change the way

people use the phone. Judging by the number of times slimy Schofield and

his star guests plugging their pantos said ’communications’, they were

all on a bonus per mention. With a succession of clips involving the use

of the phone, sponsorship credit sequences, and a Bob Hoskins ad per

break, we got the message. Just in case we hadn’t, at the end a Michael

Aspel voiceover asked: ’If you’d like to get more out of life through

better conversation, call this toll-free number ...’



Patronising? That’s nothing compared with Schofield’s script: ’Is that

good communication?’, ’Why bother having a better relationship?’, ’We

are getting the picture now of what a good conversation is’, and my

favourite: ’Welcome back - so did you talk to each other during the

break?’ As Esther Rantzen, Terry Wogan and co all totted up their

appearance fees, only Liz Dawn (Vera Duckworth) rose above the general

level of condescension.



If the studio audience looked bemused, wait till they got home and found

their ’laughter’ canned. The 7.5 million viewers (not bad against

EastEnders) will have enjoyed classic clips from the likes of Bless This

House, but what else was in it for them?



Hosford, a sincere man, talks of not wanting to be didactic, and - as

market leader - trying to grow the overall market to something

approaching the three-times higher level of phone usage in the US. He

will know that part of this is down to flat-rate charges per call that

allow Americans to witter on for hours at no extra cost - not something

BT would wish to promote. The viewer’s response to his team might be,

’Yes, we can see what’s in it for BT if you choose to spend enough

money, but what’s in it for us?’ It’s a question that Carlton, which

gave over a prime-time hour in the week between Christmas and new year,

might mull over - as should any other broadcaster contemplating

commissioning an advertiser-funded programme.



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