Finally we are to be allowed versions of our favourite magazines on
mainstream television. They’ve been permitted on satellite TV for a year
and those funny little people with multi-channel television haven’t gone
loopy under the exposure, so it’s been deemed safe for the rest of
Last week the Independent Television Commission finally gave a green
light to masthead programming on terrestrial channels, something
magazine publishers have been lobbying hard for over recent years. If
you’re a heavy BBC viewer, this will sound like very old news indeed
because the BBC has been broadcasting TV off-spins of its successful
magazines for years.
The difference is that the BBC has taken its own programming brands off
screen and into a magazine format, not the other way around. But then
the BBC doesn’t have to play by the same rules as the commercial
channels. The BBC’s experience has, however, proved the value of
extending successful formats from one medium to another, and then
cross-promoting each vehicle.
Not surprisingly, then, the established publishing houses have been
clamouring for the same opportunities on commercial channels. Now the
new ITC ruling means that the big publishing houses can take their
magazine brands on to mainstream TV, raising their profile, bringing in
new readers and driving revenue.
And while there might not exactly have been a rush to take such
opportunities on satellite TV, the bigger audiences and higher profile
of ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 are sure to lure the UK’s biggest
When new, original and exciting TV formats are sadly thin on the ground,
you can bet broadcasters will be keen to tap into off-the-peg ideas,
especially when they come with an established name, an existing set of
loyal followers and distinctive brand values.
But for all the furore over masthead TV, a word of caution. Magazines
ain’t TV, which is why we have a different relationship with them.
Terrestrial TV is open-access, mainstream and public; many magazines are
personal, private and intimate. It’s the sort of relationship magazine
publishers have been playing on for years to drive ad revenue, and it’s
While masthead programming may work for information-based magazines,
where readers are after a quick fix of data such as car reviews or
recipes, and well-targeted business titles, I don’t think TV can
replicate the intimacy of those magazines that have a more personal
dialogue with their readers.
Publishers may have won their battle against the ITC, but they must
exercise extreme caution before they risk watering down their brand
values and alienating their readers with programmes that are not true to
the titles themselves. Without strong magazines behind them, masthead
shows will be relegated to the sort of bland programming that pervades
too much TV already.