EDITORIAL: Pointing the finger will not improve TV

You can almost picture the sea of heads nodding in agreement during last week's TV industry annual conference at Phil Horton's assertion that creative agencies and clients must take their share of the blame alongside broadcasters for declining TV audiences. If truth be told, though, it's doubtful that agencies and clients share the BMW marketing director's view that they're equally at fault for viewers' goldfish-like attention spans.

For their part, agencies accuse clients of wanting it all ways, by demanding top-class service at rock-bottom prices. How can they invest in the best creative magicians when margins are being squeezed and marketing directors have to bend the knee to procurers?

Their cynicism is compounded by a perceived decline in coherence and long-term vision by clients. There are few advertisers like B&Q whose commercials never win awards but are consistently successful in driving sales. Moreover, agencies claim, it's rich that clients are demanding innovative TV advertising when their obsession for pre-testing breeds caution and stifles edgy work.

On the other hand, clients remain sceptical that they are truly reaping the benefits of an over-supplied agency market. Too much poor quality work. Too little that engages, persuades and stimulates action. What agencies interpret as parsimony, clients regard as financial prudence. Why, they argue, is the success of a great creative idea dependent on a generous production budget?

Not much room for a meeting of minds, you might think. Indeed, the only thing on which there's broad general agreement is that TV remains an unrivalled medium for reaching mass audiences quickly. And all sides can also draw comfort from national surveys showing sustained high levels of public approval for advertising.

Horton may be right to ask if agencies and clients are culpable when it comes to the decline of TV advertising. But he might also have questioned whether the most likely reason for low creative standards is because the quality of TV programming has dropped so badly. Radio provides an obvious parallel. Memorable radio ads are as plentiful as snowflakes in July.

Why? Maybe because so much radio is so bad. How can creatives have either the stimulation or the inspiration to write for a medium whose staple output is the ramblings of DJs and pointless phone-ins?

Maybe agencies and clients need to stop pointing fingers at each other but together press for a creatively fertile television environment that is more of a catalyst for creativity.