The stage had been set. After years of feuding there’d been a
timely gauntlet thrown down, the taste of blood was on the lip, gloves
were off, shirts loosened - even the odd polyester sleeve rolled. Only
one man could prevent bloodshed. The White Knight. Richard Eyre.
It was a scene most apt for the setting - the Theatre Royal, Haymarket -
and one which had been nicely set up by the fevered threats on board the
Oriana, when advertisers threatened mutiny (well, pulling money from an
ITV sales house).
The audience - a handful of bemused advertisers (generally those without
big fmcg budgets) and media buyers torn between loyalty to their
paymasters and commercial nous - were ready for a show.
Naff fireworks aside, that’s exactly what ITV delivered in its annual
presentation setting out plans for the coming year. And for once the
show was slick, professional and underpinned by an uncharacteristic
dollop of honesty.
We’ve been underperforming, ITV said. We can and should do better, they
said. We hear the advertisers’ pleas for bigger audiences and we pledge
to deliver, they said. And, by the way, we’re bonused on each point we
add to ITV’s audience share, they said. Mind you, if this is share of
all TV viewing, with digital on the horizon and Channel 5 pulling its
socks up, the little Eyres had better get their Christmas wish-lists in
early because there’s scant chance of increasing share.
It could, almost, have been anybody standing up and waving the white
flag, as long as somebody did it, but Eyre, ITV’s new chief executive,
was the consummate reassuring voice of reasoned argument.
The wonder of it all was that after being in denial for so long, ITV’s
outing was so simple and painless. It was what everybody wanted to hear
- sighs of relief were palpable and support tangible. Now, of course,
the stage is set for the denouement - delivery.