The Year Ahead for ... Television

By Chris Locke, campaignlive.co.uk, Thursday, 12 January 2012 08:00AM

Chris Locke sees a year of multiple-screen viewing, new and exciting content, a mid-year revenue boom and trading dust-ups in the land of TV.

Chris Locke

Chris Locke

One year ends, one year begins, and although there has been a lot of activity in terms of churn and change, I'd sum up the year of TV in 2011 and what's in store for 2012 as "plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose".

This essay falls into four factions: viewing, content, revenues and media owners. Before we look at each piece of the collective jigsaw, I think we should pause to recognise the shining star of TV. It's never the media owners, it's not the buyers, but Thinkbox.

It really pushes the TV envelope. Tess Alps and her team are gold standard among industry bodies. Always on, always open to new ideas in a screen-based world. Which leads neatly into ...

Viewing

Viewers continued their love affair with TV in 2011 and we think hours spent engaged with it in 2012 will increase. The key change is how and where they are viewing the content.

Back in the day, I remember going to visit my grandad and his girlfriend (the rogue!). I walked into their living room and they were watching the TV. Nothing wrong with that, you might think, except that the TV wasn't on - they were literally watching the TV. So, off to the home for them.

Skip forward to today, and that scenario could initially seem exactly the same, except today you can watch the TV with it switched off via any number of screens.

Of course, most viewing happens live every night, but in a lot of cases - especially on digital channels - the collective scale of the cumulative reach is greater than the live moment.

So "screens", and not TV, are the new language. Screens and not TV are what we watch. The "what you want, when you want" world is here.

TV is mass, niche, it dominates "all" our media days. It's still advertisers' sight, sound and motion wet dream.

Not surprisingly, watching TV while engaging with another device in a screen-based world is growing, but what is perhaps surprising is that TV plus laptop is age-agnostic. So Zeebox, which will scale quickly to provide real-time viewer engagement with programmes linked to social media, could be the new star of the connected world.

On top of this, we will have the last analogue regional switch-offs, so, once more, a year of audience growth.

Content

"Build it and they will come" has been the mantra in a TV share land grab since the inception of Contract Rights Renewal. In fairness, TV companies had been out building and creating a wonderful smorgasbord of content for 2011, and already we know the same beckons for 2012.

Gypsies, dwarfs, The Only Way Is Essex, Chelsea, Scousers, Geordies, supermodels, Embarrassing Bodies - we've had them all. As Sir David Frost so accurately remarked: "Television is an invention that permits you to be entertained in your living room by people you wouldn't have in your home."

ITV has Titanic, Whitechapel, Endeavour, What To Do When Someone Dies (bury them - I find that works) and Winners & Losers as well as the usual suspects (Coronation Street, Emmerdale, The X Factor etc).

Channel 4 has Gypsy Dwarves, Gypsy Dwarves Fashion With Gok, Tiny Gypsy Dwarf Food With Jamie and Tiny Gypsy Not-So-Grand Caravan Designs (probably). Apart from these, Channel 4 actually has the comedy New Girl, Half Ton Mum, Shameless 9, 15 Kids And Counting and The Mad Bad Ad Show.

Channel 5 has the new Dallas, which should attract both an old set who remembers the original (I loved the concept of "marry a billionaire, live in his bedroom in a house with one phone", but hopefully it has been updated) and a new set of younger female viewers. Then it has TV created out of the Northern & Shell stable as well as the Big Brother variants.

Look out for Stella, from the makers of Gavin & Stacey, and Mad Dogs 2 on Sky.

Revenues

Last year ran exactly as we predicted: fast out of the blocks, mid-year stutter, Q4 cascade. This year is harder to call, but probably goes: slow Q1 start, mid-year boom (Diamond Jubilee, Euros, the Olympics) and Q4 flat or up or down a bit. This year, like the last, at +1 per cent (or -2 per cent). Same destination, different journey.

Change at the media owners

Last year, ITV said goodbye to Gary Digby and Simon Lent, and hello to Simon Daglish and Kelly Williams. In 2012, it will be hello to Steve Bignell. Hello to "the light", goodbye to "the darkness" would be one way of describing it. A more cuddly client/agency-friendly operation? Trust me, if it were a teddy bear, it would still be wearing knuckle dusters.

ITV has finally worked out CRR - great content over 12 months equals audience. And that's what it has done. You feel confident that, whatever month you advertise, there will be decent programming, so it'll be looking for growth.

With the departure of Andy Barnes and the arrival of Jonathan Allan at Channel 4, several other faces headed off into the sunset. Having spent the 2011 negotiation season without a trading director, Channel 4 pulled in Digby as a consultant to not do trading in the same way a Bond villain doesn't actually do the killing; they just issue orders while stroking a cat.

Channel 4 doesn't like share of commercial impacts, apparently, but I wonder if it would if it had put on three share points? Its sales team is out asking (demanding) more share for the same prices. Given most agencies' start point with a media owner that has lost 11 per cent of share points on its main channel is more for less or more for the same, the bold move is simply one of attack rather than defence.

At Channel 5, Nick Bampton is now at the helm bringing with him his travelling band of waifs and strays. In fairness, they've given it a good go. They've fixed historic trading issues, of which the ironic upshot of this success is they've "got noticed" - they've got relatively expensive and they've got people questioning their apparent revenues/value to schedules.

I say ironic because, for them, there is a real danger of their swift success being rewarded by a kick in the proverbial slats, which, I think, is the historic British way of rewarding success.

The harsh reality is, in 2011 and 2012, there are only four TV players. It's a bit of a beauty pageant, where perception is reality. To most agencies and advertisers, Channel 5, regardless of the above, is still the ugly kid in the corner.

Which leaves Sky. It hasn't had any personnel changes, but has had considerable on-screen changes. It too will be asking for growth.

So everything changes, everything remains the same.

I love TV. It gets better every year. There's ever more ways to watch it. Homer Simpson nailed it in one when he said: "Television! Teacher, mother, secret lover."

Chris Locke is the UK trading director at Starcom MediaVest Group.

This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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