I don’t know who invented the phrase ’management of long-term
decline’, but it’s now one of those sayings that has acquired a common
I hate it. It makes me uncomfortable. It’s an insidious phrase, implying
both complacency and inertia. It’s a cop out, a rationale for wringing
your hands and trying nothing new. British car industry going down the
drain in the 80s? ’Don’t worry, mate,’ the car chiefs say, ’we’re in the
business of managing long-term decline.’ Then in come the Japanese.
Economy in a mess? ’Stick with us,’ the politicians say, ’we’ve been
managing long-term decline for years now. Actually, we’re quite
experienced at it, don’t you know.’
And these days, of course, you hear it more and more in media circles,
especially TV. ’Look chum,’ the ITV bods say, ’it’s inevitable. But I
tell you what. We’re awfully good at managing long-term decline.’
Of course, you may think I’m being unfair, but I’ll bet you a pound to a
penny that, faced with last week’s Institute of Practitioners in
Advertising TV viewing trends, more than one ITV executive retreated
behind that excuse.
Now they may be right to do so. Let’s look at the issue in the round
first. Total TV viewing in 1996 came in at an average 3.59 hours per
OK, it has stabilised after three years of decline, but it’s still
significantly down on 1992’s 3.81 hours. This is not good, but perhaps
there are some simple explanations. Clearly, the nature of leisure time
has changed since 1992. We’re surfing the Net, we’re jogging and cycling
more, we’re shopping in the evenings and on Sundays, too. We’re
travelling further and it’s taking longer. Those of us in work are
certainly putting in more hours.
All this is reasonable explanation. But say we accept it, how does one
then explain the drop in ITV’s share of average daily viewing from 39
per cent in 1993 to 35 per cent now? We could, of course, buy the
argument about ’long-term decline’ but, curiously, nobody at the BBC
seems to be thinking that way. Over the same time, BBC1’s share has
changed very little, while those of Channel 4 and BBC2 have fluctuated
more or less within set parameters.
So where’s it all going? Answer: to satellite and cable. Its share has
more than doubled to 10.7 per cent of all TV or 19 per cent of
commercial TV over the same period. And guess what? For the most part,
it’s all coming from ITV which is in ... well, you can guess the
For advertisers, is this a problem? If commercial TV’s overall share was
rising, then probably not. But the trouble is it’s falling - from 57 per
cent in 1993 to 55.9 last year - and all at a time when the number of
commercial channels on offer (ie offering consumers the extra benefit of
choice) has been increasing exponentially. But there’s the paradox.
Perhaps more choice just makes us more selective.
Funny thing, choice, isn’t it?