FORUM: Can Monte Carlo’s television forum justify itself? - What exactly is the point of the Monte Carlo TV conference? To look at the agenda, you’d hardly believe that the airtime market has just been through a turbulent 12 months. Is the

They touched down at Nice airport yesterday evening, grabbed the helicopter shuttle along the coast and made straight for the hotel bar.

They touched down at Nice airport yesterday evening, grabbed the

helicopter shuttle along the coast and made straight for the hotel

bar.



At some point in the wee small hours, they staggered over to the casino,

suddenly hell-bent on letting the whole of next year’s marketing budget

ride on black. Today, Thursday, they might have struggled out of bed at

a civilised hour and breakfasted with some mates before the start of

business. They won’t be reading this. Not yet, anyway.



They - the lucky delegates - are too busy having fun at the Monte Carlo

television conference.



Exactly how much fun will be a matter of great interest, especially as

it is to be gauged for the first time using a new unit of measurement -

the ’Baker’. Peter Baker, you may recall, was the sales executive who

was dumped by NBC Europe for admitting that he drank a bottle of wine a

day at the last Monte Carlo bash. If that was close to the truth, he was

certainly the soberest soul by far at the conference. Monte Carlo is

renowned for legendary drinking, epic drinking, drinking that would make

Hunter S. Thompson or Oliver Reed whimper and throw in the towel.



The Monte Carlo conference used to be important. When, at the Copenhagen

conference in the late 80s, ITV’s finest told advertisers and agencies

that they were a miserable bunch of whingers, those same advertisers and

agencies actually plucked up the courage to fight back and let network

bosses know what they really thought about the service they were

getting. It wasn’t pretty but it made a big impact - eventually.



So, on this year’s agenda: Is there a market for new technology? Is

media research missing the point? Is it possible to make use of more

channels and more spots? What is TV’s sphere of influence? And where

does TV fit?



(The answer to this last one, incidentally, has nothing to do with the

size of your living room.)



Topics guaranteed to build a scrum six-deep at the bar? You wouldn’t

think, looking at the agenda, that we’ve just passed through the biggest

airtime trading crisis in living memory. Where’s the debate about

overtrading, transparency and the future of station average price?



Unless you intend to get seriously Bakered up, what is the point of

Monte Carlo? What should really be on the forum’s agenda? And why isn’t

it already there?



Mark Cranmer, the managing director of Motive, concedes that the

conference still has a strong emotional appeal. ’There’s been a nip in

the air here and it has been raining a lot. Who doesn’t want a bit of

blue skies and fresh air? It’s always going to be tempting to find an

excuse to go, particularly if a couple of your clients will be there and

you convince yourself it might be a good idea to send a posse out to

mark them.’



That’s not enough though, he argues. ’What’s missing is any discussion

of the fact that we, as an industry, spent pounds 2.5 billion last year

and everyone involved in trading agrees that the way we spend it is

absolutely stupid. The money is spent using outdated criteria - trading

against station average price and reducing everything to 30-second

equivalents - dictated by fear. The problem is that no-one has the nerve

to change. It’s a ghetto mentality that no-one seems able to break out

of.’



Jerry Hill, the managing director of TSMS, agrees that the current

restructuring of the television industry should provide an extensive

range of issues, opportunities and challenges for those involved in the

medium. It doesn’t always work out that way: ’What Monte Carlo has

lacked in previous years is an occasion where real vision has been

conveyed to the delegates. This has led to a downgrading of people’s

expectations and some reasonable criticism.’



But he’s an optimist. ’I hope this year sees a more provocative,

uplifting and challenging message from the platform and from the

delegates,’ he adds.



David Cuff, the broadcast director of Initiative Media, says that he’s

not going to be drawn on the merits of this year’s conference but he

believes very strongly that there’s a need for an industry forum.

’No-one criticises the film business for coming to the Riviera and the

television programme markets do it too. I’d say there would be a

reasonable level of commercial justification for it. The problem, I

suppose, is that there are just so many conferences these days and some

of them feature the same old faces on the platform speaking to

half-empty halls.



’But it’s a bit like party political conferences. They may seem

lightweight in content and don’t really seem to set the agenda but they

are of real psychological importance. You get a feel for people’s

attitudes and what they’re thinking - it can be an important collective

learning process.’



Bob Wootton, the director of media services at the Incorporated Society

of British Advertisers, says that the television advertising business is

big enough to demand a major forum involving all interested parties.

’There is certainly plenty to talk about and I’m not sure that the

published agenda is all-important - it’s got more anodyne than previous

very successful conferences. These things are what you make them. Yes,

advertisers have concerns and we are raising them where we can, using

the tone of voice that is appropriate in each case. I certainly don’t

think that setting out for a ruck is any way to approach a

conference.



On the other hand, the chance to say something coherent and persuasive

to the right people is of tremendous value,’ he says.



David Connolly, the joint media director of Leo Burnett, agrees that a

TV forum is important for the industry. And he reckons he has a way of

ensuring that nettles are grasped: ’It doesn’t always address the key

issues, such as trading problems and media inflation. Perhaps the topics

and presenters should be voted for in advance. I would also like to see

some sessions debated in mixed groups, behind closed doors, with results

and solutions presented to the full audience.’