One hundred days of hard graft have chiselled themselves into
Richard Eyre’s jaded face since he stood before the advertising
community last September to pledge a fresh start for ITV, and asked for
100 days to deliver the strategy.
It was a stay of execution that seemed set to draw bloodthirsty voyeurs
to the public hanging that would inevitably follow. But 100 days and
some tough decisions later, Eyre has delivered the sort of plan one
would only expect from the mad or the brilliant.
Eyre, John Hardie, ITV’s marketing director, and David Liddiment, the
programming controller, aim to increase ITV’s share of viewing against
the BBC and to improve its audience profile. And, crucially, they’re
setting targets - accountable, necks-on-the-line, willy-shrinking
’Nobody’s ever done this before in the history of media,’ Eyre says.
’And we’re doing it because we think it’s the biggest single
demonstration to a cynical and abused group of people (that’s you,
folks) that we have a shared interest with our customers and we mean
what we say. It’s a very dangerous position, but this is the real
Dangerous because at the first wrong footing, the targets will be
embraced by ITV’s critics and even Eyre admits the uninformed will
probably start complaining by March. ’But the people who understand the
process - from business plan to commissioning, broadcasting and
nurturing - will appreciate what a big task this is. If we don’t hit the
precise targets, I hope the industry and the ITV shareholders will take
a view on the way we’ve gone about the job and why we’ve missed our
Jim Marshall, chief executive of MediaVest, was among those offering
support, describing the targets as ’brave, confident and committed’.
The main focus of ITV’s commercial fire will be BBC 1, not Channels 4, 5
or satellite. As Hardie points out: ’If a market leader is focusing its
activity not on a number two brand but on a distant number three brand,
it takes its eye off the ball entirely. BBC 1 is the only competitor
with significant audience for us to go for.’
Of course, the ITV sales teams will still be baying for blood from the
commercial competition but Eyre insists the ITV sales teams are giving
their full support and says he’s also been gratified by the unity
displayed by the ITV broadcasters themselves. ’There’s a real strong
mood of change among the media owners to get ITV as good as it can
possibly be. They’ll compete like hell for revenue in London, but
there’s a bigger competitor than other ITV companies when it comes to
fighting for advertisers’ money.’
So with ITV’s biggest guns right behind them, Eyre, Hardie and Liddiment
have begun to outline a series of changes to the architecture of the ITV
schedule and how it is marketed to the viewer. And Eyre is determined to
leave not one of the proverbial stones unturned in his evaluation of the
’David (Liddiment) has a chart which shows a Monday night’s viewing on
ITV. It could be next week’s line-up, but in fact it’s 30 years old. A
lot has changed in 30 years and now we’re holding a complete review. It
will take time, though.’
Specific structural changes probably won’t come through until 1999,
though the effects of the review are already being seen on the screen in
small ways. So in the next few weeks the move to increase peak time to
11pm and strategise the network schedule after News at Ten will start to
become evident. News at Ten is, of course, another live issue. All
possibilities are being explored, Eyre admits.
Key to all programming decisions will be improving the peak-time
audience share and boosting the social class profile of ITV. Around 45
per cent of the UK population are now ABC1s, compared with 37 per cent
of ITV’s audience. Longer term, the channel must sort out its youth
profile. This, Hardie explains, is more about shaping the programmes and
the way they’re promoted and marketed rather than padding the schedules
out with ’yoof’ TV.
ITV promotion is something Hardie is aware needs addressing. ’The viewer
marketing strategy will no longer be a bolt-on activity, but a core part
of how we deliver our audience-share objectives.’ There will be an
emphasis on programme marketing rather than corporate image advertising.
Last week’s appointment of HHCL & Partners was a start, and the agency
will now get to grips with tactical advertising and the creative
direction of on-air promotions.
Meanwhile, as Eyre takes his bows for the plan, the BBC is preparing its
response. In fact, Eyre says, ’ITV may be defining the battle, but we’re
not inviting them to a duel here - the battle’s already on.’ He cites
last week’s spat over ITV’s established show, Neighbours from Hell, and
the BBC’s rushed-forward response, Neighbours at War: ’Isn’t that an
appalling way for a public service broadcaster to behave. It’s
disgraceful.’ Lobbying for a more level regulatory playing field and a
BBC that sticks to its remit will be important weapons in ITV’s armoury.
To this end, Eyre has so far met with about 50 MPs, telling them that
’ITV is part of our culture ... a bit overblown, I know.’
One hundred days in, three years left to go, and Eyre admits he’s
finding it tougher than expected. ’It’s very hard, but it’s compelling.
The challenge is sublime.’
First annual report due: 12 months’ time.