An ad agency warning: ignore digital at yourperil

A small prediction: ITV won't be airing the Baftas on primetime television for much longer. Monday night's coverage of the event, which actually took place on Sunday night, effectively amounted to a two-hour promotion of its rivals' brilliant programming.

ITV was invited up on stage only once, for The X Factor. The BBC was the most frequent visitor and Channel 4 made it up eight times. Sky and five were notable only for their absence.

In a television market as lean as the current one, a lack of quality programming is not a viable option. ITV will argue that the Baftas aren't the awards arena for its hits such as I'm a Celebrity ... Get Me Out of Here! and Celebrity Love Island, but the BBC still scooped the populist vote on Sunday with awards for EastEnders and Doctor Who.

The BBC, which also went on to win big on Monday night at the Sony Radio Academy Awards, is playing its cards cannily: what better justification for the preservation of the licence fee system than producing great programming?

The same goes for Channel 4: government subsidies are much more likely if the broadcaster transmits something that is worthy of protection.

ITV's necessarily ratings-driven culture is risk averse, something that is preventing it from delivering market-leading television. So what can it do? It could look for inspiration from advertising agencies.

In the same way that advertising agencies produce jury-pleasing work for their smaller, often less profitable, clients, ITV could use its secondary channels to try out more groundbreaking programming. Picking up awards for programmes on ITV2, 3 or 4 would benefit the overall ITV brand. On Sunday night, Channel 4 was basking in the glory of awards given to More4 as well as the flagship channel. The BBC, meanwhile, benefited from the accolades received by BBC1, BBC2 and BBC4. In addition, any successful experiments could be shifted on to ITV1 to reach a bigger audience.

This year the Baftas launched a new category: "interactivity" (it was won by the BBC for Coast). Ricky Gervais, who presented the award, wasn't exactly polite about the significance of the category, but its inclusion got me thinking. It really showed up the British Television Advertising Awards for not incorporating an interactive category in its ceremony in March.

This omission speaks volumes about the ad creative community's attitude towards all things digital. It stinks. This was illustrated recently by the PA to an executive creative director of a top-five agency. She rang Campaign to ask us to substitute the digital ad her boss had been sent to review for Private View. "He doesn't use computers" was her imperious explanation.

There's absolutely no room for such blind conservatism when the client community is so utterly intrigued by digital communications streams. In the US, the budgets being chucked at the internet are so large they've got some media agencies complaining that it's impossible to spend them.

This attitude is already pretty advanced in the UK - the Internet Advertising Bureau puts annual internet spend at £1.4 billion - but advertising agencies' ability to win their share of this lucre is so far pretty limited.

Again, a glance Stateside reveals that the most creative ad agencies are embracing digital communications. Crispin Porter & Bogusky's output for Burger King ("subservient chicken") and Mini are examples. Goodby Silverstein & Partners' online work for the Saturn car marque is another.

Both agencies are producing campaigns that in the UK would be farmed out to a digital specialist.

Getting to grips with digital is not about setting up an online division and handing over the briefs, it's about making digital solutions as front of mind in creative departments as television and print advertising.

- Claire Beale is on maternity leave.