As a teenager my favourite show was Soap, LWT’s Friday night
Dallas/Dynasty pastiche. I loved the manic exploits of ’invisible’ Bert,
’barmy’ Jessica, and ’is he gay?’Jody (Billy Crystal). When its
wonderful theme tune began, you never knew what would happen. ’Confused?
You won’t be after this week’s episode.’ And then, scarcely had it
started, it was over, and I was left shouting at the telly that we’d
only had 21 minutes of the actual programme. It was, unbeknown to me, my
introduction to the issue of minutage.
So, when the national media, picking up on our ’ITV responds to P&G’s
challenge’ story, asked if Procter and Gamble was naive to make such
demands, I said I’d never suggest such a thing. Even when P&G calls for
five minutes of ads a night on the BBC, I suspect it may have done some
secret deal that will be announced the day after I write ’P&G’s naive’,
and I’d look stupid. It’s the journalists’ incredulity that’s naive. The
world’s largest advertiser, spending dollars 3 billion a year, is
entitled to ask a few questions of the media-owning recipients of its
funding, and the regulators that control the media environment.
If you doubt this power, remember ’the moral majority’ middle-American
advertisers got Soap axed in the 80s because it was too naughty. (Please
someone bring it back from episode one. P&G could advertise Pampers to
all of us new parents in the breaks.)
Clearly, P&G has failed to get answers to its latest demands in private.
While ITV has been content to see old chestnuts like minutage and
airtime inflation kicked about, P&G has seen UK TV costs soar so much
that it is ’harder to justify investment here’. So it went public in an
astonishingly frank manner (see feature, page 28). Suddenly the sales
houses are being surprisingly accommodating. Is it cynical to suggest
prior knowledge? TSMS and Laser hinted as much privately in Monte Carlo.
Now, it’s over to Frank Willis at the ITC, with Martin Bowley in the
position of being the ’viewer’s friend’. Do viewers want extra
advertising minutage? You can bet your life they don’t, once they have
understood it will truncate Coronation Street.
Put another way: less Cracker, more ’Daz doorstep challenge’. Well done
P&G for bullying ITV out of its inertia, but at the risk of repeating
past columns, if vast-spending advertisers such as BT and P&G made more
entertaining ads in lieu of the entertainment minutage they replace (and
pay for), then extra minutage might be more welcome.
It is actually naive to dismiss this as a dilemma between business
realism and cultural consumption. More ’Daz doorstep challenge’ means
more opportunity to zap ITV and turn to the alternative media P&G has
observed mushrooming around us.