MEDIA FORUM: Can masthead TV crack the mainstream market? OK! TV is the first masthead programme to run on ITV in a primetime slot. Why haven’t we seen more initiatives like this? Is the divide between print and screen almost unbridgeable or can O

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 also there.

We know this because it was the world exclusive and lead article in last

week’s OK! magazine. But this was no ordinary

celebrity-in-a-jewellery-store scoop - history was being made. Phillips,

while undoubtedly a celebrity in her own right, is a television

presenter and her role at the event was to interview Mrs Beckham for the

launch show of OK! TV, the new weekly series kicking off on 3


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 interview 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, the chief executive of the National

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

admire what has been achieved by Richard Desmond (the 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. I know that Richard is

demanding and is passionate about magazines, so he won’t allow anything

substandard to come out. Celebrities and babies are hot material and it

will make better television 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 that 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 television and we’re taking stock. We have extensive

experience on satellite, with 114 Good Housekeeping shows and 65 for

Zest - we 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. Having swung from the chandeliers for the idea of masthead TV

for several years, it would be a great way for me to sign off, wouldn’t


Many publishers agree that, if terrestrial TV 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: ’From our perspective, it’s a question of finding the right homes

for what we have to offer. The value for us is in developing content and

we are looking at many ways of exploiting that content - not just in

television. Online activity, for instance, will not only be about

providing a service, but also about entertainment. The combination of

brand plus 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 Green 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.

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. We saw

something of the way it can work when newspapers sponsored TV gameshows.

Newspaper promotion drove audiences into the TV shows and the TV link-up

pushed readers in the direction of the newspapers. 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 is 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 relationships 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 was

never going to be millions of these deals but we are seeing a change of



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