LIVE ISSUE/ITV: Renewed focus emerges after 100 days’ thought - Eyre and Hardie maintain that ITV’s bold revamp will work, Claire Beale reports

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.

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

targets.



’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

world.’



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

goals.’



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

network schedule.



’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.



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