Three days out of the office, a couple of grand out of pocket and
what really did we all get out of Barcelona apart from some mildly
interesting papers and a couple of nasty hangovers?
Take the absence of some of the industry’s heavy hitters. Channel 4’s
Andy Barnes, Channel 5’s Nick Milligan and Sky’s Peter Shea all declined
to attend. The obvious reading is that ITV dominated the programme, but
in truth it took its fair share of conference airtime and no more. The
result was less debate on competitive issues and more concentration on
new media, digital TV and the changing role of the media agency. Oh, and
for the first time in a long time, ITV didn’t get a hammering - soaring
audience figures, the absence of an army of rivals and the reassuringly
sensible figure of Richard Eyre saw to that.
So you might think the delegate list would be littered with players from
the new world of television. Erm, not exactly. ONdigital, for example,
came under fire several times for failing to market itself effectively
to advertisers or agencies. The fact that there was no representative
present to defend the company served to underline the point.
Mind you, while Sky Digital and Open ... received a few name checks,
there was no real insight into the opportunities either of them afforded
the advertising industry, probably because - to paraphrase the brilliant
Mike Sommers - no bugger’s watching ’em.
The fact is that we are in something of a limbo, TV-wise. All the
stalwart papers predicting the future have dried up - the future’s here
and there’s less chance of getting away with a load of
finger-in-the-wind bollocks about take-up and penetration. We’re in the
eye of the storm and it’s actually rather quiet.
So perhaps it didn’t matter so much that there were hardly any clients
to ponder the issues in Barcelona. The usual suspects were there (Mike
Moran from Toyota, Patrick Burton from Allied Domecq, a welcome return
for Sommers) but this is the media-literate crowd. The rump of clients -
those who blindly sign up to ISBA policies or add their voices to
industry arguments - stayed away. The reality is that while TV may be a
huge chunk of an advertiser’s budget, it’s not something that
preoccupies their time.
Even ISBA itself was unusually subdued.
Yet the fundamental tenets of British broadcasting are being debated
right under our noses. The Davies committee is now considering whether
the BBC licence fee should be supplemented by advertising to 2006. It is
the most important issue on ISBA’s agenda and it could undermine the
fundamental economics of the commercial TV sector. Yet you wouldn’t know
it from Barcelona. Personally, I don’t think we will see ads on the BBC
by 2006, but it’s surely an issue that deserves more considered industry
debate than interactive advertising.