In recent years, it has been fashionable to speculate on whether television faces a continuing decline as an advertising medium in this bright new digital millennium.
Obviously this sort of talk is, in some measure, inspired by mischief of various sorts - black propaganda from rival media owners looking after their own interests, the anger of marketing directors bitter at the memory of being hauled by their finance directors before the board to explain the latest media cost inflation figures, or the calculated rhetoric of TV negotiation directors looking for a little extra leverage.
But it's not hard to suspect that there might be some truth here. So, while the TV companies themselves (especially ITV) have been less than adept in the customer relations department, rival attractions have been taking advantage.
On the face of it, that looks set to continue. Outdoor is, according to many sources (not all them in outdoor), poised to have a bumper year.
It's clearly determined to keep taking the fight to the opposition too - a recent survey from JCDecaux argues that though the TV is on, no-one is really paying that much attention these days. And the Radio Advertising Bureau has just released figures showing that the medium is continuing to grow well ahead of the overall market and that its share of total display advertising has broken 7 per cent for the first time.
Now, though, it's clear that TV intends to fight back. We're not just talking about ITV's decision to poach Justin Sampson from the RAB to be its first customer relations marketing director, but a broader, industry-wide initiative. In recent weeks, representatives of all the major media owners have been continuing exploratory talks - though at this stage we're miles from any imminent announcement of a formal structure.
But the outlook is encouraging, Andy Barnes, the sales director of Channel 4, says: "It makes eminent sense for the TV companies to get together to do something. There's a genuine willingness now but the right investment will have to be made. TV should be viewed as the most powerful and innovative medium there is but I'm not sure that it is these days because when people make a case for TV it's generally from the specific viewpoint of one individual company and it comes across as a partisan viewpoint rather a proposition about TV itself. That would be much more powerful."
Surely, though, generic marketing only makes a really discernible difference to small, more fringe media. Could such an initiative really help TV take advantage of an upturn this year? Absolutely, Nick Theakstone, the director of investment at MindShare, says. He'll believe it when he sees it though: "Where TV is concerned, the old rivalries will continue to exist. ITV is a new beast and is being careful and as good as gold for now but we'll have to see how that works - and, given the nature of the individuals involved, you could be forgiven for being sceptical. But we're currently buying TV at 1996 prices and ITV, in particular, is spending a lot on programming because it is going to be under such intense scrutiny so we might see audiences increasing. So, for 2004 there's a lot of goodwill towards the medium."
John Overend, the investment director of PHD, says that some form of initiative is long overdue. He comments: "The way that TV is sold and marketed doesn't actually reflect the fact that the medium has moved on. The entry costs have come down, not just in terms of media costs on multichannel but also in terms of creative - most will produce commercials for you to a pretty high standard.
"You probably won't be able to tell the Procter & Gambles of this world anything they don't know, but there's a huge role in educating smaller clients about the medium. The virtues of TV as a medium haven't changed but they have to be sold and it's increasingly important that it has a presence alongside the likes of the RAB and the Newspaper Marketing Agency."
Andy Bolden, the advertising director of GlaxoSmithKline, agrees: "They have to be clear about what it is they are marketing and they probably have to return to basics. They've got to take on board the reality of the way that agencies and advertisers work these days. TV doesn't have a God-given right to be on a schedule - advertisers and media agencies continue to look at other routes to the consumer. They have to ask themselves if TV is a medium that can easily be left off a schedule and to what extent you can use other media to deliver what you've been using TV to deliver. There's no harm in reminding people that TV works."
Barnes: "We're a group of different companies with different requirements and you can argue that we have enough of a common goal here for it to be simple to move forward. But things are never quite that simple. It has taken time to get this far and it will take more time. But we're agreed that we need a resource."
Theakstone: "Every single marketing director wants to see evidence about TV effectiveness. More so than ever now that they sit on plc boards and because of the involvement of procurement people. Need for evidence about return on investment is there to a greater degree than ever before. It can make a real difference if TV finds a compelling way of talking about itself."
Overend: "Historically TV has been losing share and they haven't done much to stop that happening. The underlying power of the medium is undiminished and whatever other media may say, people still spend a lot of time in front of their televisions. Some people need reminding of that."
Bolden: "With the technology we have available to us now and with the use of things like econometrics, TV is being scrutinised in a different way. They have to respond to that. Agencies and advertisers have moved forward at a faster pace than many TV companies. It's a matter of catching up."
- "We're companies with different requirements and you can argue that we've enough of a common goal for it to be simple to move forward. But things are never simple. It has taken time to get this far and it will take more time. But we're agreed we need a resource." - Andy Barnes sales director, Channel 4
- "Every single marketing director wants to see evidence about TV effectiveness. More so than ever now they sit on plc boards and because of the involvement of procurement people. It can make a real difference if TV finds a compelling way of talking about itself." - Nick Theakstone director of investment, MindShare
- "Historically, TV has been losing share and they haven't done much to stop that. The underlying power of the medium is undiminished and whatever other media may say, people still spend a lot of time in front of their TVs. Some people need reminding of that." - John Overend investment director, PHD
- "With the technology we have available and the use of things such as econometrics, TV is being scrutinised in a different way. They have to respond to that. Agencies and advertisers have moved forward at a faster pace than many TV companies. It's a matter of catching up." - Andy Bolden advertising director, GlaxoSmithKline.