The North may be buoyant, prosperous and happening, but television
advertisers remain unimpressed. Ward Thomas, chairman of Yorkshire Tyne
Tees Television, thinks a Northern macro sales set-up could reverse the
drift of cash to London. Is he right? Or is the problem more
deep-rooted? Alasdair Reid investigates.
Everyone knows by now that the North is resurgent. There’s branch of
Harvey Nichols in Leeds for a start. And then there’s ... well, plenty
of other stuff happening up there. Probably. It’s no longer about
whippets, the allotment and bingo at the working men’s club.
The North, in short, is now wall-to-wall Harrogate - or will be when
they’ve persuaded all those clubs in South Shields to stop selling
suicidally strong ale at 20p a pint. If you don’t believe all this, talk
to Ward Thomas, the chairman and chief executive of Yorkshire Tyne Tees
Announcing YTT’s financial results last week, he said that, in
advertising sales terms, his region was not realising its true potential
(Campaign, 21 March).
Historically, Yorkshire used to take around 14 per cent of ITV
The figure last year was 10.31 per cent. This is an old battle cry from
Thomas - YTT happens to be sold by Laser Sales, which is owned by
Yorkshire’s traditional enemy, Granada. It has looked at trying to take
over Yorkshire in the past and what better way to set up a sale than by
underselling the station and depressing the share price?
Last week, though, witnessed a departure from such parochial
Ward Thomas was acknowledging that the ad sales slide is a problem faced
by all of the Northern stations. The prosperity may be there, so are ITV
audiences, but advertisers and agencies remain unimpressed. The North
needs a fresh approach - and the solution, according to Thomas, will be
to sell it as a ’macro’ region.
Laser is happy to oblige - in fact, it has been working on such a
proposal for several weeks now and has Independent Television Commission
approval for the initiative.
But will it work? The problem for the North - and for all but two of the
ITV contractors - is the fact that London is so strong these days.
Growth sectors, such as financial services and telecoms, target the
capital first and let the provinces scrap for the crumbs. Could a macro
sell reverse this structural trend?
There has been a history of competition between Yorkshire and Granada,
as Mick Desmond, the chief executive of Laser, readily admits. ’Agencies
still try to drive a wedge between the two stations. A macro approach
would put an end to that.’ He adds: ’The North came out of recession
first and people there have more disposable income these days. We will
remind people that 25 per cent of the UK population is covered by the
macro region and we will also make life easier for the buyer - for
national advertisers, one spot will cover the whole of the macro
Desmond says the great irony is that advertisers are being persuaded to
use alternatives that actually cost them more: ’These alternatives seem
cheaper against the price for all ITV but not against the Northern
stations, which continue to offer better value. That fact is being
disguised at present and it is something we have to get across.
’Around 65 per cent of business currently is common across the three
regions and a very high proportion of advertisers are capable of
advertising across the whole of the North.
And of course there will be incentives - they will be different to the
way that they are structured cur-rently within Laser. We are not seeking
to prevent anyone using individual regions as they see fit but we will
try to reward them for using the macro,’ he reveals.
That will come as a surprise to John Blakemore, the UK advertising
director of SmithKline Beecham. ’I can’t really see how they could
introduce an attractive new form of incentive,’ he states. ’The reality
of the way that television is traded would make that very difficult to
do. There are already various opportunities within Laser. I take it that
you could still easily opt out of the macro and buy Granada, for
example, on its own, without problems. So what’s new?
Blakemore points out that for advertisers, one of the most important
factors is achieving the right balance of audience delivery. ’I don’t
think that the initiative would necessarily make them want to change
So whether it works or not will depend on what sort of advertiser you
are and how the constituent parts of the marketing strategy fit
Blakemore is not alone in being confused. Alan James, the TV buying
director of the Network, also struggles to understand what will be new
’There certainly won’t be any dramatic benefit in administrative terms.
We no longer have every single spot with a monetary value against it -
it’s a one-line invoice these days. So that really isn’t an issue,’ he
Anyway, that is irrelevant to the fundamental problems faced by the
Northern contractors, James says. ’In the past, fmcg stood for a greater
percentage of the total television market. Campaigns were aimed at
housewives and the North was a good place to go looking. There were also
lots of regional retail chains. That’s all changed. Lots of campaigns
are driven by equal impacts strategies these days and you don’t need to
pump a lot of revenue into the North to achieve your targets because the
airtime is so cheap.
It’s not a problem that incentives can really address - and anyway most
buyers are very cynical about that whole issue these days - they see it
rather as a series of dis-incentives for not using a region.’
Chris Boothby, the broadcast director of BBJ Media Services, is more
positive. He thinks the ITV macro will allow the network to compete more
effectively against the Channel 4 northern macro. ’For buyers, an easy
one-stop sell can prove attractive as long as individual brand marketing
requirements are not compromised. It must be remembered that the west
and east of the Pennines constitute two distinct marketing regions,
often with different needs and requirements. It is fundamental that this
new macro sell is not prioritised above existing regional opportunities
in terms of both airtime access and quality. Given these parameters, and
provided that Laser doesn’t intend to enhance any potential conditional
sell, this macro could become a beneficial alternative to both
advertisers and Laser.’