MEDIA PERSPECTIVE: It is time for ITV to fight its battles on an undivided front

There’s something wonderfully seductive about someone who is prepared to open their soul and confess all to you. Their vulnerability confers a strangely attractive responsibility on their confidante. Who wouldn’t want to be handed such power to protect. Or to wound.

There’s something wonderfully seductive about someone who is

prepared to open their soul and confess all to you. Their vulnerability

confers a strangely attractive responsibility on their confidante. Who

wouldn’t want to be handed such power to protect. Or to wound.



So it comes as no surprise that ITV has chosen to face its critics by

offering up a host of performance targets that could easily be used to

slay ITV chiefs if the channel’s performance doesn’t improve.



Sure, it’s a cynical act, born out of defensiveness, but it’s a smart

one. ITV’s targets are being heralded as brave, ground-breaking and

creative.



Their existence has already positioned ITV as responsive to its critics,

and its chief executive, Richard Eyre, and his team have become jolly

good eggs, compared with the secretive and arrogant men who ran the ITV

network before.



At a stroke, Eyre has ensured that the issue has moved on to a more

human plain. ’We’re on the same side,’ is his refrain. And by seeking

advice from top industry figures, Eyre has got many of them on-side,

with a few congratulating themselves for their role in this new start -

something that will stand Eyre in good stead when the waters get

choppy.



But I wonder whether Eyre has paid enough attention to the potential

enemy within. There’s an important section of the ITV camp that doesn’t

come under his jurisdiction, but it’s a faction that provides the most

potent interface that ITV has with its commercial customers. The

significant role the ITV sales houses can play in underlining or

undermining the Network Centre’s fresh start cannot be

underestimated.



The ITV sales houses were loudly critical of the old Network Centre

regime.



Now, the new broom is promising to target the BBC, rather than the

commercial channels the sales houses are accomplished at knifing. While

the Network Centre is gunning for the BBC, the sales houses are

naturally attacking the other front: Channels 4, 5 and Sky.



Even if the ITV sales teams are smart enough to see that taking share

from the BBC is likely to mean ITV is stronger, relatively, against

commercial rivals, they could find that Eyre’s published targets have

condemned them to suffer the same sort of whispering campaign they

launched against Channel 5 as soon as it set out its first year’s

revenue and coverage targets.



I wouldn’t be surprised if they were among the first to point the finger

at Eyre when things go wrong. And, if true to form, their

dissatisfaction will be quickly conveyed to advertisers and

agencies.



Even if all goes according to plan, Eyre cannot afford to ignore what

the sales houses are doing. Last autumn’s row over the share of

broadcasting sales policy, when the sales houses were accused of

strong-arming advertisers into deals, unpicked some of the goodwill Eyre

had already built up. If there was ever a time for programming and sales

to speak as one, this is it.



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