Media Perspective: Agencies have lots to think about with gloomy times ahead

There has been more than enough doom and gloom in media of late to match the early July downpours. News International cutting up to 100 staff, ITV set for big cutbacks after calling in Boston Consulting Group (which has just finished at NI) and companies as varied as GCap Media and Sky making significant cutbacks in staff.

But while you could depress yourself just thinking how grim all this sounds, and this week the IPA's Bellwether Report suggests that there will be stormier times ahead, agencies are already scratching their heads and wondering what the implications will be. Can NI, for example, keep up the standards of service it offered with far fewer staff engaged on agency business? The general view seems to be that, maybe a few of the fat cats at NI aside, the business is not stupidly overstaffed. As one agency director put it: "It's already hard enough to get hold of anyone at The Sun as it is."

And obviously it will be interesting to see if NI's commercial leadership can run a more integrated operation with the Times Media sales operation now integrated with that of the red-tops under the commercial managing director, Paul Hayes, and Dominic Carter, the first NI trading director. Carter's appointment seems a wise one for NI, given his unwillingness to cave into the more ridiculous agency demands and his good relationships with NI senior management. However, his enlarged role may cause friction with some of the agencies who don't appreciate his at-times abrasive style.

The next big round of cutbacks could come at ITV, where there will be some nervous people waiting to learn their fate. With an ultra-low share price and September's ITV1 ad revenues in double-digit decline, it's hard to be optimistic about the immediate future. While potential buyers have begun circling the broadcaster again, their solutions are also going to be unavoidably linked to stripping cost out of the business.

If you look hard enough, though, there have been some bright spots in the past week or two. My own favourite was UKTV's channel relaunch, which looks set to capitalise on the success of the launch of the men's channel Dave last year. While UKTV's ownership is uncertain - Virgin Media is said to be considering a sale of its 50 per cent stake in the venture - its current management seems to be ensuring its future health with some strong marketing and scheduling innovation. Proposals for new names for UK Gold (simply "Gold"), UK Gold+1 (which will become "Watch") and UKTV Drama (which will become "Alibi") will create better brands with greater standout on the electronic programme guide. The changes, which come into effect on 8 October, will surely also create more value for Virgin Media should it decide to press ahead with a sale.