Jeremy Lee
Jeremy Lee
A view from Jeremy Lee

Jeremy Lee: Starcom could yet have the last laugh over TV sales chiefs

There are few things that tug on the heartstrings of television executives more than a "journey" or an "emotional rollercoaster".

As well as providing tabloid fodder, it fuels the associating cheap sentimental chatter on social media - as non-fans of The X Factor will testify to their annoyance every Saturday evening.

Starcom MediaVest Group has been on a journey but, in this case, it's not one that the commercial TV industry appears to approve of. At least that's what seemed to be the conclusion of last week's survey of TV sales chiefs.

I think they may have been rather unfair - while it might not boast as many big characters as under previous regimes (the wonderful Chris Locke notwithstanding), the agency appears to have moved away from the overcrowded traditional media space and embraced digital with gusto.

It's easy to conclude that it has taken this leap too early and too quickly, given its performance against the traditional metric of new business. But at least it has realised that the media industry is in transition and positioned itself accordingly (although the less charitable might think necessity had a large part to play in this, given the state of its business).

While it may look like having endured a rollercoaster ride, I think the chief executive, Stewart Easterbrook, has tried to give Starcom MediaVest some differentiation. He may lack the charisma of some of his predecessors, but Easterbrook is no superannuated figurehead with a diminishing grasp on the challenges the media industry faces.

This struck me last week when he was enthusing about Zeebox - a new platform that is the brainchild of Anthony Rose, the creator of the BBC iPlayer.

For those who haven't tried it - and until Easterbrook's intervention, I was one of them - Zeebox is an online dashboard that synchronises social media activity from multiple platforms about what is on TV. It tells you what you and your friends are watching and what is trending.

For those who are working through the implications of social television and two-screen viewing, Zeebox adds another important layer to the debate.

If - when - it gains critical mass, viewers will be able to see who is watching what and what is being talked about, including which ads. The opportunity is there for advertisers to gain a slice of this action without ever buying a TV spot by manipulating rankings or guerrilla activity so none of the actual TV content creators will benefit.

Broadcasters may therefore see advertising money that was once invested on screen disappearing to the parasitic social media channels. And if they thought Starcom MediaVest has been through a journey, the broadcasters might be facing a tear-jerker of their own.