After a long period of inaction, the revolving doors at the broadcasters' marketing departments have suddenly - and pretty much simultaneously - cranked into action, prompting hints that they could be boosting their marketing efforts.
With the hiring of Channel 4's Rufus Radcliffe as its group marketing and research director, ITV has finally filled a void left since the departure of David Pemsel nine months ago. While the marketing function will continued to be represented at board level by ITV's director of television, Peter Fincham (a fact that insiders say contributed to the swift departure of Pemsel last summer), Radcliffe's hiring seems to confirm these rumours.
Meanwhile, over at Channel 5, Richard Desmond has indicated that he is preparing to invest in marketing with the announcement that the station is looking for an ad agency to help promote its channels and, in particular, its acquisition of Big Brother.
Again, Channel 5 had been without a marketing chief for many months since the departure of Carl Ratcliff in June 2009 and the arrival of Zoe Harris, as the controller of marketing, in February this year.
It's no great surprise that Radcliffe was looking elsewhere after being passed over for the newly created role of director of marketing and communications that went to Dan Brooke at the end of last year, taking a role that had been vacant since Polly Cochrane left two years previously.
The indications are, therefore, that the main commercial TV broadcasters are looking to raise their game after a period of marketing purdah, perhaps enforced by a turbulent period in advertising revenue and the impressive efforts of Thinkbox to get across its message to the business-to-business community that TV advertising works (although Channel 5 has pulled out of the trade body but benefits accordingly).
1While Radcliffe doesn't join ITV until the summer and ITV is reluctant to commit to what its plans are, an ITV marketing insider says that while it may appear that the broadcaster has cut its adspend, it has remained consistent in its use of onand off-air messages. Nielsen figures reveal, however, that it spent £9.2 million over the past 12 months, down 25 per cent on the previous year and nearly half that of Channel 4, which more than doubled its spend over that period. Channel 5 also more than doubled its spend to £5.8 million.
However, the insider does confirm that ITV has ambitious plans for marketing itself to the viewer this year, in particular to broaden its reputation beyond the mass-market entertainment formats (such as Britain's Got Talent and The X Factor) and soaps.
"Brighter Side (ITV's former brand positioning developed by Pemsel) was about broadening our core strength. Our emphasis now is about the growth areas, hence we are looking at factual, drama, news and sport," the insider says.
He adds that while drama has been supported in the past - notably with Marchlands - and that press and digital activity has not been curtailed, the strength of the drama slate and the forthcoming Rugby World Cup in New Zealand has tempted the broadcaster to use off-air media.
2Interestingly, for a channel that dumped its flagship arts format The South Bank Show and then told the House of Lords Communications Committee that Contract Rights Renewal meant that such fringe shows were uneconomical, it is also planning to promote its new arts strand - Perspective. "We're looking to surprise people. We're trying to show that it's a broader mix," the ITV source says. This, he adds, all forms part of ITV's growth and transformation strategy in increasing audience share championed by its chief executive, Adam Crozier.
3Channel 4, meanwhile, has also appeared to have a limited marketing presence - its most notable efforts have been its on-air Twist campaign, which has met with mixed reviews. What Brooke has up his sleeve will be interesting to see given Channel 4's necessity in retaining share after the loss of Big Brother - particularly to its youth audiences.
4If ITV is committed to the transformation strategy, as Crozier promises, then promoting the fact that it has a diverse schedule that appeals to new demographics and advertisers (as well as showing the Government that the scrapping of CRR will lead it to invest in new genres) seems a sensible route to go down.
WHAT IT MEANS FOR ...
OTHER MEDIA OWNERS
- Rival broadcasters will be watching ITV's next move with great interest. Potentially, an off-air battle could be good news for the outdoor companies in particular - the traditional battleground for TV companies to display their wares.
- It will certainly come as welcome news for the Outdoor Media Centre - although Entertainment & Media remains the largest category, it has slipped in recent years from an all-time high of £172 million in 2007. This year, however, it was given a substantial boost by Sky, which heavily promoted the launch of Sky Atlantic - its most significant channel launch to date. However, outdoor media owners will be keen to see some long-term commitment coming back from the TV companies - certainly the days when the broadcasters (and, most prominently, the BBC) bought up large swathes of outdoor space in long-term deals look a lifetime away.
- The other media companies, most likely in the digital space, will also hope to benefit from a return to spend on bought rather than owned media.
- Anything that ignites something of a ratings war and a push for audiences could mean that sponsorship offers in the short term and the relative audience share position in the longer term could have profound implications. One of the most interesting marketing battles is, of course, around Channel 5's acquisition of Big Brother and whether the station can resurrect interest in the format to make it attractive to advertisers again. ITV, meanwhile, will be hoping to attract more ABC1 and male advertisers with its focus on high-end drama, arts and, of course, sport.