ITV has been losing share as the viewing choices increase. This
should not have come as a surprise to anyone. Yet it seems to me that
the debates about ITV and the Network Centre have not changed very
Because of the internal workings of the network, the battle for
scheduling slots, the long-term battle for share and the fixation on the
’internal’ market, the broader sales context has been forgotten. The
debate about the current state of affairs carries on as if in a vacuum,
while the issue of value for advertisers in the broader media market
seems to have taken a back seat.
One angle on the argument which is particularly baffling is the notion
that increasing the available minutage, as suggested by the Institute of
Practitioners in Advertising, is a solution to the problem.
This seems an attractive option, but does it do anything to address the
fundamental problems facing ITV? The answer has to be no.
Even if, in the short term, increased minutage shifts the way in which
the supply-and-demand equation works, it won’t be long before the
manipulation of supply becomes the order of the day again.
The artificial maintenance of price is the only way the sales houses can
operate on behalf of their clients without losing share and credibility,
because they aren’t in control of the creation of audiences. I’m not
attacking the sales houses but I am criticising the system.
In order to find a way of addressing the problem of declining audiences,
of offering value to advertisers and of finding new ways of linking the
medium to the message, it’s time the whole system was re-examined in the
light of today’s market.
The Network Centre needs to reflect ITV’s competitive environment today,
instead of spending so much of its time administrating and refereeing
between the individual companies.
It should be representing the network competitively with other
It should be viewing scheduling with an eye to maximising audience share
against the competition. It should be ensuring that ITV as a whole has
maximum clout in negotiating major programming deals which deliver
audiences that advertisers want to buy into.
The individual companies need to be realistic about the targets they set
for the sales houses, and express those targets in terms that are
relevant to today’s more competitive market.
Perhaps a major study should be undertaken by the industry to help
decide what is an achievable share of all ad revenue in the light of a
changing media market and forecast audience levels. This would set the
base for external and internal battles for revenue.
This study would, of course, make certain assumptions about audience
levels nationally and locally. I sometimes wonder if the years of share
battles and equal-impact buying have left ITV unable to look at the
world through anything but parochial eyes.
So what’s to be done? ITV needs a strong Network Centre, led by someone
who understands how to schedule to win better audiences, who understands
the commercial imperative from the Centre and who knows how to make
programming work together with sales. Someone who can do battle with the
rest of the world on behalf of ITV and who might be listened to by all
the internal factions. Someone who can get to grips with the important
London scheduling in a way that benefits ITV versus the rest, not on a
weekday versus weekend basis.
So who is this paragon? I can only think of two who come close. So, come
on ITV, make Michael Grade or Greg Dyke an offer one of them can’t
Whatever the price, if he gets it right it’ll be cheap.