The year ahead for...television

Chris Locke says television will offer unparalleled value in 2009 and, with audiences set to grow, prove the most compelling medium for advertisers.

Chris Locke...value in TV
Chris Locke...value in TV

In 2009, TV will deliver even greater value across a year of two halves. Expect a big decline in revenues in the first half (around 10 per cent) and smaller declines in the second half (around 2.5 per cent). There will be a 6 per cent revenue decline overall. This is on the back of a 6 per cent 2008 decline, accelerated by the early casualties of the recession, namely cars, finance and retailer collapse. Audiences will increase by 3 to 5 per cent, resulting in TV deflation of 10 per cent across the year.

In 2009, smart clients and smart media planners will put TV at the heart of their media selection. Smart in this instance equals not too fragmented a media plan. Look at spending more on TV (or not spending less), with fewer overall media channels. Less will translate to more. Because what has always held true of TV will continue to hold true in 2009. "For all the people, some of the time." So said Jeremy Isaacs at the inception of Channel 4. "Want it." So said my daughter as she pointed her finger at a TV ad.

It's a product for everyone, some of the time. On average, 25 hours a week of their waking time. It persuades, informs, delivers emotion, passion, entertainment and controversy like no other medium. It is still the best medium to engage consumers - sight, sound and motion - to sell product. It is very much alive.

Indeed, for most people, the world of flat screen has given TV a total renaissance, which, alongside multichannel and choice, has kept the "superhighway" generation hooked to TV.

One flat screen is sold every ten seconds. TV has a longer "sitting" than any other media. In today's climate, TV is a cheap night in.

This year will see video-on-demand come of age and start to become the norm for some younger viewers. It's still TV, it's just different TV. Watch when you want, not when "they" say.

The high point of VOD development and acceleration into the mainstream will centre on the scale and opportunity of Kangaroo. If it happens, it should radically challenge the current TV supply model, as well as offering even tighter targeting. Ofcom still has to ratify and Five, Sky and IDS will also want a say.

TV in 2009 will therefore not only be cheap, it will also be more efficient and effective. For advertisers, there's never going to be a more cost-effective time to think big.

We've had a live ad and two-second ads. For 2009, Ofcom's relaxed break rules could see the first nine- or 12-minute ad. Wouldn't that be a thing?

Sponsorship will suffer as budgets tighten or advertisers/TV companies will work out they are "perishable goods", and make offers accordingly. We think applying the same logic to sponsorship as to property prices will result in a strong "weak" market.

In 2009 (for 2010), we expect either consolidation of broadcasters or a new sales house to be set up representing a significant set of channels. We also believe, despite the gloom, we will see new channels and rebranded "modernised" channels, which, again, should increase impacts further.

TV has one big chance to be the "good guy" of media. TV companies used to say: "The answer's fuck off. Tell me the question so I can laugh at you anyway." But even ITV listens now.

So TV companies should help rather than hinder. No more penalties, more flexibility. Welcome advertisers to their "shop". Stop treating them like dirt (you know who you are ...) and wondering why they don't come back. Work with, not against.

Because it will get dirty at the trading coalface. Everyone wants more of less, and everyone, to a degree, is replaceable. TV companies can't afford to lose one piece of business, as there is nothing coming over the hill to replace it.

ITV will need to prove it can create a truly global content business that will deliver in the UK across traditional and online distribution platforms.

It will also hope that it can survive takeover hysteria and gain additional security from any CRR review dividend (although that will most likely come into place for 2010, if at all). Regional analogue turn-off will accelerate ITV's decline and, perversely, increase multichannel and overall viewing and drive deflation further.

The $64,000 question post Sky's divestment of the majority of its ITV stake is: will ITV be sold in 2009? Will, for example, RTL buy it and move Five into BSkyB? Will Sky buy Virgin Media? Channel 4 will look for a swift return to its past form (Celebrity Big Brother this month should at least start the year on the right footing).

Sky's challenge is to balance having a great platform business with a pretty average set of channels and relatively limited (pay) penetration on its premium channels. It will look to use the return to the Virgin platform to take a higher share of advertising revenues. Its relatively expensive (multichannel) price will deflate in 2009, but for anything not overtly male, one could argue Sky is less than essential.

However, Five is looking the most isolated and the 2009 whipping boy.

Five's audience has ridden on the back of wall-to-wall Neighbours since February 2008. IDS, on paper at least, had the greatest success in 2008. The harsh reality behind this headline growth is on just a couple of channels to hold the rest up. Its opportunity is smart stuff beyond spot, both content and using the Virgin platform.

Viacom continues its eclectic ways with a mix of youth and kids. Constant and innovative.

We have seen all the 2009 sales pitches, the bones of schedules for 2009. They look better than 2008. Old favourites, new drama, fully formed US acquisitions, sport, entertainment and passion genres (eg. food, fashion, reality). A mix of the mass and the niche to cater for all tastes.

"Television, the new religion, let everyone sing Hallelujah." So sang Hard-Fi. Smart advertisers will pray at the altar of the God that is TV in 2009.

As that's what a sane person would do, you'd have to be mad not to. If we do, then 2010 will see a return to flat, and, as we all know, flat is the new up.

- Chris Locke is the UK trading director of VivaKi.