MEDIA FORUM: How the major media players fared during 1998. Another year over, as John Lennon once put it. But not just any old year for the media business. Next Christmas, your favourite Yuletide singles will come courtesy of all-singing, all-dancing, pi

Millennium fever will last longer than you think - the years 1999, 2000 and 2001 all have a resonant, slightly apocalyptic feel to them.

Millennium fever will last longer than you think - the years 1999,

2000 and 2001 all have a resonant, slightly apocalyptic feel to


In many ways, we’re already at the end of the last sane year of the 20th

century. Not that people in the advertising industry need any additional

excuse to celebrate, you understand.

But if you take another perspective, you could argue that we’ve already

passed the biggest watershed we’re likely to see in a good while and,

with the launch of digital, we’ve already witnessed the start of the new

media millennium.

Media regulators - such as the Independent Television Commission -

appear to realise that the rules need rewriting. The Government is also

preparing for a radical reappraisal of the media environment. It’s not

just a tele-vision thing - while the internet impinges ever more on the

mass-market consciousness, the fortunes of (almost all) newspapers

continue to decline.

Radio, too, has started to confront its own digital challenges this


On the other hand, if change really is about to hit an exponential curve

- as some believe - we might just have enjoyed the lull before the


So, how was 1998 for you? Who came out best - advertisers, agencies or

media owners? Or should they all be happy about the ways things are


John Hardie, the marketing and commercial director of ITV, certainly

thinks it has been an important year - and not just because of digital.

’When you look back it has been remarkable. The whole structure of the

ITV network has been changed and there is a new team here at Network

Centre. A year ago, the initials I, T and V hardly ever found their way

on to the screen.

We now have far more prominent branding for the network and a new


Programming and marketing strategies are being driven from the


’A year ago we laid down some targets - a move everyone said was mental

- but it looks as if we will hit the target for this year or be no more

than a whisker away. Getting permission to move News at Ten was a huge

step forward and heralds a new era in terms of scheduling. And, yes,

ITV2 (the network’s cable and digital second channel) is very important,

giving us scope to develop new programming and to extend the development

of our sporting rights.’

None of which will stop advertisers grumbling, will it? Bob Wootton, the

director of media and advertising affairs at the Incorporated Society of

British Advertisers, reckons that’s a bit unfair. He’s in something of

an upbeat mood. ’We’ve put a few runs on the board this year, especially

in tele-vision. Two events stand out - the Independent Television

Commission’s momentous decision about News at Ten and its equally

momentous move to realign the taxation of ITV (through the recent

renewal of the licences on many of the franchises).’

Wootton is not alone in being encouraged by an apparent new-found

willingness at the ITC to embrace the future. He says he’ll take a

wait-and-see attitude with digital and admits there have been some

genuine disappointments this year. He adds: ’It is no secret, for

instance, that we will continue to seek more commercial minutage and a

harmonisation between satellite and terrestrial in terms of the amount

of advertising that all channels are able to carry. And there have been

some concerns about the various research currencies. It has been good to

see new blood at BARB but I think we’ll see a lot of shenanigans in

media research next year and the various research bodies, if they have

their heads screwed on, will do a lot of listening.’

For Ray Kelly, chairman of Carat and chairman of the Media Policy Group

of the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising, 1998 was a year in

which media was pushed up the agenda within major holding companies such

as WPP (with the launch of MindShare), Interpublic (which has been

emitting confused signals about internal media brand consolidation) and


The year ended with Grey acquiring the Media Business but MacManus and

Leo Burnett failing to merge their media operations. One way or another,

it all helps to enhance the status of the sector - but true independents

such as Carat, he suggests, will have nothing to fear from intensified


Kelly agrees that digital is the big event of the year but there are

some caveats. ’I continue to believe that the existence of two competing

systems - Sky Digital and ONdigital - will be a barrier to the

development of the sector as a whole. There is also on-going concern

about the BBC, which is blatantly ignoring its remit. There doesn’t

appear to be the political will to address that issue.’

Cinema had a Titanic-inspired year at the box office but next year might

not be so good - some of the major studios have already hit rough


The consumer magazine business saw more births than deaths but failed to

deliver the fireworks promised by the likes of IPC a year ago.

Newspapers, as we’ve already suggested, had yet another year learning

about the business of managing decline. But what of radio, which also

stands on the digital threshold?

According to David Mansfield, the chief executive of Capital Group,

there are still deep concerns about the way the industry has been


He says: ’We would like the licence process to be more accountable and

transparent. We would also like to be able to convince competition

authorities that radio actually competes in a wider advertising market

and that further consolidation should be seen in that context.

’But aside from those concerns, the medium has had a fantastic year -

commercial radio has consistently outperformed the BBC in terms of

audience and consolidation on the sales side has been good news. Revenue

for the first nine months of 1998 was up by 18 per cent year on year.

The medium is now realistically knocking on the door of a 6 per cent

share of UK display media and there is no reason why it cannot continue

to grow.’


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