Last week I heard a TV engineer talk about the future. The only bit
I understood was his theory that Britain is so far off the pace in terms
of TV technology that the likes of Sony and Philips regard us as a
second-class country. Given the excitement of last Friday’s announcement
about digital TV from the cream of British broadcasting, the idea that
we’re somehow behind the rest of the world sounds, well, worrying.
But fear not. One of the lessons of history is that victory does not
always go to those with the most advanced technology. If it did, Vietnam
would now be the 52nd US state, we’d all be using eight-track stereo
cartridges and cable would be dominant.
Now, it’s terribly easy to get lost in all the dizzy excitement about
British Digital Broadcasting, but what does it all mean for advertisers
1) Cable is probably dead. It’s had its chance and it’s missed it. If BT
doesn’t kill it off, digital terrestrial soon will.
2) The real power in television will lie with the talent. As demand for
programming grows exponentially, so the stars whose presence guarantees
success can name their price. Agencies and advertisers take note: using
the likes of Billy Connolly and Harry Enfield in all your ads will
become prohibitively expensive. (This may, of course, be a good
3) There will be so much airtime to fill that the opportunities for
advertiser-funded and supplied programming will grow, as will that for
co-productions that include advertisers - and why not agencies? - acting
as principal. Of course, only the bigger players can do this, which
makes the future for everybody else a bit grim. Control of or access to
content will become vital.
4) Media buyers need scale. This is not merely to negotiate with bigger
media owners, but also to keep up with a 30-, 40- or 100-channel
In such an environment, how does the buyer know what he’s buying
How can he keep his research up to date? The demands on resources will
be enormous, the answer to which is scale or, to put it another way, a
commodity market. No wonder Martin Sorrell is banging on the way he
No wonder Carat merged YMG with TMD.
5) Big advertisers will negotiate bigger, more all-encompassing deals.
For example, a BT deal with Carlton could include elements of
sponsorship, co-production, advertiser-supplied programmes, freefone
deals and normal spot-buying across 20 channels. The deal will cover off
all Carlton’s ITV interests, digital TV, videos and cinema. Buyers may
find themselves squeezed out of a negotiating process conducted between,
say, Martin Bowley and Stafford Taylor, relegated only to micro planning
within an umbrella framework.
For the consumer, this new world is all about choice. For advertisers,
paradoxically, unless they are big enough and quick enough, choice could