It's perhaps a sign of the times that when ITV began bigging up the launch of Daybreak as the most significant programme launch on British TV this year, no-one was in the least tempted to smile. Not even those with vague memories of the last time that a breakfast television initiative was touted as a culturally important event, courtesy of David Frost and the TV-am launch.
Since those seminal days (TV-am was succeeded by GMTV in 1993 and GMTV slid into the history books last week), breakfast television has learned to be unremarkable in just the right sort of homely fashion. But now ITV is calling for a rethink. In documents leaked to the press last week, ITV chiefs were quoted as saying: "We will be authoritative but we won't be dull. We'll have fun, we'll laugh in the right places. No attempts at naff humour!"
Few presenters in recent memory have been able to work a sofa with quite the aplomb of Adrian Chiles and Christine Bleakley - who made such a success of the BBC's early evening format, The One Show.
Frank Lampard's current squeeze is regarded as hot stuff in many quarters and Chiles seems a perfectly lugubrious foil for the cheerily toothsome Bleakley. Their audience tends to believe (tabloid evidence of Frank and Christine's burgeoning relationship aside) that, if they're not secretly in love then they would, in an alternative universe, make an ideal match.
In short, they have become, in their own unique way, a celebrity couple - and their decision to quit the BBC to head ITV's revamped broadcast strand, following ITV's decision to take full control of GMTV and buying out Disney, was blown up into headline news, which in itself helped tip ITV towards its recent promotional hyperbole.
Now they have to deliver. Daybreak, as the GMTV strand is now called, launched on Monday. Should advertisers be excited?
No-one in the business underestimates the economic importance of breakfast television. GMTV, for instance, provided reams of evidence that advertising in this daypart, thanks to its "proximity to purchase", can convert strongly to sales within hours, particularly in retail and FMCG and pharmaceutical categories - and, in the run-up to Christmas, music and toys.
So Neil Johnston, the joint head of buying at OMD UK, says he's relieved that ITV seems to have made all the right moves here. He states: "It has clearly spent a lot of money on getting the talent right. And the breakfast strand is in a strong position. It has always had a decent programming budget, it has invested down the years in talent - and it has held on to its audience. So it has the potential to grow off a base that has been well looked after."
But nothing can ever be taken for granted, Richard Oliver, the managing partner of investment at Universal McCann, argues. He cites the example of Richard Madeley and Judy Finnigan: after seven barnstorming years of the Richard And Judy show on Channel 4, with audiences above two million, they upped and took their sofa double act to UKTV's new Watch channel in 2008. The new show bombed. When the plug was pulled, their audience had fallen below 20,000.
However, Oliver can't envision the same fate befalling Bleakley and Chiles. He explains: "Daybreak won't be hugely different to what's gone before, but nor should it be - and ITV has probably got the best host double act it could get. The potential breakfast audience, as radio listening proves, is significant."
And James Mackenzie, the associate director of TV at Vizeum, points out that, though overall audiences have been good, there have been some weak spots. He comments: "If you look at GMTV this year, then we've seen double-digit declines against housewives-with-kids - an audience that's important for advertisers at this time in the day. So I think that indicates that the format needed refreshing and we'd hope that Daybreak can not only recover those losses but also stimulate audience growth."
Meanwhile, Emerson Bramwell, the strategy director at MPG Media Contacts, agrees that success is by no means a foregone conclusion. He says: "New TV brands like this don't come along every day and the amount of attention being paid to this one should translate to decent audiences, at least at first. Advertisers that have got in on the ground floor should benefit. Whether ITV will grow - or even retain - breakfast audiences in the long term depends on several things. However, there is scope to grow breakfast. After all, no-one thought Saturday evenings could get any bigger - and along came The X Factor."
YES - Neil Johnston, joint head of buying, OMD
"ITV knows its breakfast audience - and you can be sure it has researched whether Chiles and Bleakley are likely to be popular to the nth degree. There will be audience growth, which will be good for advertisers."
YES - Richard Oliver, managing partner, investment, UM
"ITV is investing in Daybreak when there was always a fear that it could have stripped every imaginable cost out and spread existing ITV resources ever more thinly. ITV probably has the best double act it could get."
YES - James Mackenzie, associate director, TV, Vizeum
"I'd like to think that the new format and the new presenters will have the desired effect. They complement each other well. And ITV has put a substantial promotional budget behind Daybreak, so there's awareness out there."
MAYBE - Emerson Bramwell, strategy director, MPG Media Contacts
"Presenters are important at this time of day. The known and loved quantities of Chiles and Bleakley ought to create some traction. As always, the public will decide, so there's a lot to be said for a wait and see policy for advertisers."
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