Why a confident ITV still matters to the adindustry

There are two tactics often resorted to by dying brands: ditching the brand name in favour of one less tatty and tarnished and trying to steal the clothes of a more successful competitor. ITV is mooted to have considered both this week; the nation's biggest broadcaster has never seemed more desperate.

Amid the announcement of another slump in advertising revenue and the axing of the chief executive, Charles Allen, the behind-the-scenes flailing of desperate executives speaks volumes: the chairman, Sir Peter Burt, is thinking about changing the PLC name to distance it from the troubles of the ITV1 brand, while its director of television, Simon Shaps, is said to have been cosying up to Endemol in an attempt to snaffle Big Brother from Channel 4. As if that wasn't turmoil enough, a takeover later this year seems to be a distinct possibility.

Allen is an easy fall-guy, but his removal will not stem the flow of ITV's lifeblood. Many of ITV's problems are ingrained at a much deeper level, the legacy of the auction of ITV franchises way back in 1992. It was then that the real demise of ITV's programming began; its production powerhouse Thames was killed off and the fundamental focus of the ITV channel became the structure of its business rather than the quality of its output. In truth, Allen has done a fair job of steering the old fractured ITV through a painful, but imperative restructuring under a single strategy. Now he has paid the price for being a reasonable business operator but not a programmer.

The removal of Allen is certainly a slate-cleaning exercise, but it seems unlikely that the chief executive's post will be filled until the takeover issue gets resolved - if, indeed it does - this autumn. That means real uncertainty during the crucial autumn planning season when many adspends are apportioned for the following year.

Should the advertising industry worry about any of this? After all, according to a new McKinsey report, by 2010, traditional television advertising will be one-third as effective as it was in 1990; the real game has moved elsewhere.

But of course that new game - centred on a digital, but disparate, playing field - has little to offer advertisers in the way of shared consumer experience or mainstream brand-building opportunities. It's a cliche, still, but therein lies ITV's real strength. The eyeballs might be shrinking but ITV still delivers more of them, week-in, week-out, than anyone else and that's still a critical proposition for many advertisers.

So it's back to the old rulebook: the ad industry desperately needs a strong ITV. But the ad industry will also be looking for resolution, and quick. The ownership of the channel and the identity of its new chief executive are emergency issues that must be solved to the satisfaction of an advertising industry that is desperately looking for a rejuvenated quality-programming-centric ITV Plc.

And in the meantime, the ITV sales operation needs a major offensive to reassure the commercial marketplace; with Thinkbox itself still in turmoil (for which ITV must share some of the blame if you see our story on page 5), ITV can't expect much of a fillip from that quarter yet. A year or two ago it would have been unthinkable to say it, but bring back a confident, ballsy ITV.

A couple of weeks ago, the headline of the Evening Standard screamed about cut-price flights from British Airways. As the most important story in any newspaper, it was an incredibly lame choice; as the lead story in a paper that aims to serve a distinct community - albeit one as large and diverse as London's - it was unutterably bland. But it was also typical of the paper. The Evening Standard consistently fails to capitalise on its franchise in one of the world's most vibrant and important cities. It deserves every blow in the ferocious attack that thelondonpaper will inevitably deliver.

claire.beale@haynet.com.