MEDIA PERSPECTIVE: ITV's criticisms of radio signal a fault in its grip on reality

Well, hello there. It's me, the new, er, Claire Beale. Her fans

should not despair, however. I'm temporary until she returns from

maternity leave.



Let's start this week's column with a choice French phrase: plus ca

change, plus c'est la meme chose, which means the more things change,

the more they stay the same. That's how it feels taking up this column

again five years after handing it on to Ms Beale.



I'll explain. Back in 1991, when I first started writing about media,

one of the big talking points was a concerted campaign by the national

newspapers to woo advertisers off TV. Times were very tough (Norman

Lamont was chancellor - enough said) so stealing share from rival media

was the order of the day. And good knockabout stuff it was too,

involving Oxford statisticians and hidden cameras to prove that, when

the telly was on, people weren't actually watching it.



All of which we knew anyway, although that didn't stop it being a

constructive argument. Where it went wrong was when a) it became

personal, and b) both sides started to criticise media buyers and

clients for the way they spent their money. Doh! It's not clever to

suggest your clients are stupid.



Everybody dug in, and instead of a decent debate we had an argument that

was like two deaf people shouting at each other by megaphone.



Ten years on, the cast of characters may have changed, but the issues

haven't. This time round, the row has been sparked by trade press ads by

the Radio Advertising Bureau claiming that advertisers can get a bigger

bang for their buck by taking a small amount of their TV money and

putting it into radio. There's nothing new in this claim - the RAB has

been successfully pushing this line for a while and some big advertisers

have bought it.



Note, also, that the RAB is not claiming that TV doesn't work - merely

that, at the margins, radio is an effective multiplier of a client's

budget.



And yet, to judge by the reaction of Carlton's sales boss, Martin

Bowley, you'd think the RAB had kidnapped his children. He's a-huffing

and a-puffing, ringing up the trade press to claim clients critical of

ITV are being misquoted (as if!), firing off angry letters to clients

and generally on the point of internally combusting. Indeed, I'm told

colleagues in TV sales are rather hoping that he does since he is now an

embarrassment to them.



And all this kerfuffle over a medium that takes just 6 per cent of

display advertising. If all national radio advertising moved into ITV,

it still wouldn't fill ITV's revenue gap this year. However, the real

damage is to ITV's credibility. For all its difficulties, it's still the

biggest national medium in this country. It should behave as though it

is, and not like a bully picking on the smallest kid in the playground.

If ITV really thinks radio is the problem, then I fear it may have lost

its grip on reality.



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