MEDIA ANALYSIS FORUM: Can masthead television perform at peaktime? All eyes are on the marriage of OK! TV and ITV. Will it prove fruitful, asks Alasdair Reid?

The media event of the autumn took place recently at the Asprey & Garrard jewellers, hosted by the Bill Clinton lookalike, Edward Asprey.

The media event of the autumn took place recently at the Asprey &

Garrard jewellers, hosted by the Bill Clinton lookalike, Edward


In attendance were Victoria Beckham, her son Brooklyn and Victoria’s

sister, Louise. Louise brought along her daughter, Liberty. Oh yes, and

Fiona Phillips was there too.

We know this because it was the world exclusive in last week’s OK!. But

this was no ordinary celebrity-in-a-jewellery-store scoop - history was

being made. Fiona Phillips, while undoubtedly a celebrity in her own

right, is a television presenter and her role at the event was to

interview Posh Spice for the launch show of OK! TV, the new weekly

series that kicked off on 3 December.

There have been many masthead programmes on cable and satellite this

decade, but it was only last year that the rules were relaxed to allow

publisher-sponsored programming on terrestrial commercial channels

Consumer titles had pushed hard for the new rules and many commentators

believed we’d see a flood of deals. They failed to materialise. There

have been one or two experiments - NME teamed up with Channel 4 a couple

of times and FHM forged an ill-fated relationship with Channel 5.

OK! TV is the first masthead excursion on peaktime ITV. Six half-hour

shows have been made - they will run at 8.30pm across the network on 3,

10, and 17 December, with the slots after Christmas as yet


As well as the anchor presenter Phillips, there will be celebrity

interviewers, including Nigel Havers who will talk to Sharon Stone at

her home in Beverly Hills.

Could this be the belated kickstart that masthead needs as a mainstream

opportunity? Or will OK! TV prove the exception to an increasingly

apparent rule - that when it comes to bigtime TV, the masthead sums just

don’t add up?

Possibly, admits Terry Mansfield, chief executive of the National

Magazine Company and long-term campaigner for masthead TV. He says: ’I

admire what’s been achieved by Richard Desmond (chairman of OK!’s

publisher, Northern & Shell) in taking the magazine to the screen. I

have a feeling it’s going to be very good. Richard is passionate about

magazines so he won’t allow anything substandard. Celebrities and babies

are hot material and it will make better TV than a new recipe from Good


But many observers believe the problem runs deeper than whether a

magazine’s content is TV-friendly or not. TV producers see masthead as

an extra cost, merely a tax on magazine ideas they would have stolen

anyway; while publishers insist on the added value the masthead brand

will bring to the programming, not just in ratings but in terms of the

quality of the advertising environment.

Mansfield is hopeful. He says: ’We haven’t been able to gain access to

terrestrial TV and we’re taking stock. We have experience on satellite -

114 Good Housekeeping shows and 65 for Zest - and we’ve learned a lot

from that. We are also launching a Cosmo Channel on cable in Spain and

this is a very important development for the Hearst Corporation. My big

ambition is to see the Cosmo Channel here in the UK. It would be a great

way for me to sign off.’

Many publishers agree that, if terrestrial is your main measure,

masthead TV hasn’t taken off. But Nick Ryle, the head of TV development

at IPC, maintains that peaktime ITV was never the be-all and end-all. He

says: ’It’s a question of finding the right homes for what we have to


The value for us is in developing content - not just in television.

Online activity, for instance, will be about providing a service, but it

will also be about entertainment. The combination of brand and

entertainment will be incredibly powerful. The future will be about new

opportunities like video-on-demand as well as online - perhaps the time

will come when we don’t need to think in terms of partnerships with

broadcasters at all.’

Perhaps. There are others, though, who think that the terrestrial

masthead TV story is only just beginning. A decade ago, Paul Green was

one of the pioneers of TV sponsorship: now he is the director of a

masthead specialist, Inside Broadcast. He argues that there are strong

analogies to be drawn - masthead programming is following the same

evolutionary curve as TV sponsorship.

Green says: ’When sponsorship was given the go-ahead, nothing much

happened for a while. But then we had Beamish with Inspector Morse on

peaktime ITV and suddenly everyone was talking about it. When people see

OK! TV, everyone will wake up and start asking themselves why they don’t

have masthead TV too. Like sponsorship, when it works, it works well -

as long as everyone remembers that it is a two-way street. At its best,

it is a virtuous circle. For a magazine and its readers, TV involvement

is the icing on the cake; from a TV advertising perspective, it’s

natural for advertisers who are in the magazine to go on air too.’

Tess Alps, managing director of Drum PHD, is optimistic: ’Certainly you

can argue that this is merely an indication that OK! magazine has

something it can offer to television that money alone just can’t buy -

its relationship with celebrities. But it’s also an indication that it

is possible to do a deal with ITV.

’My feeling is that we’re seeing greater realism on both sides.

Magazines, which in the past wanted to be paid by TV companies for the

use of their mastheads, are now owning up to the enormous promotional

value there may be in this - and broadcasters are clearer about the

benefits for them too. There were never going to be millions of these

deals but we are seeing a change of attitudes.’


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