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Television may still be the senior medium, but it has no cause for complacency – lessons should be learned from the way radio has achieved double-digit ad growth.

SBHD: Television may still be the senior medium, but it has no cause for complacency – lessons should be learned from the way radio has achieved double-digit ad growth.

Not very long ago (but long enough for most people to have forgotten) the Monte Carlo TV conference was something more than a TV conference. For its first few years, the event’s title was TV and Radio, and the ITV companies were made to rub shoulders not with Channel 4 (which wasn’t yet selling its own airtime) or with the satellite and cable channels (which hadn’t yet been invented), but with the radio stations and sales houses.

It was a curious mix, made even more curious by the fact that it was radio which invariably “won”. While the TV companies bickered with each other and the agencies and advertisers, the radio industry managed to bury its internal differences and sell the medium.

This was so refreshing for advertisers and agencies, who had felt condemned by television to a lifetime of regional monopolies and station average price, that they came away vowing to switch large chunks of their budgets into radio. (They didn’t, of course, but the feelgood factor was tremendous for a while).

Of course, it couldn’t last. The TV companies declared UDI, transferring their conference to Copenhagen for a year, where they unleashed even greater odium on themselves, to the extent that they changed the nature of the relationship between TV and its clients forever. But that’s another story.

Suddenly, it’s Monte Carlo time again and TV once more finds itself being compared unfavourably with radio, even though the Capitals and Classics and Virgins are still back home. Radio, for the second year in succession, is easily the fastest-growing advertising medium, up by 23 per cent last year, against TV’s nine, and, though that is still from a very low base, its momentum is undeniable.

After two decades as the “nearly” medium, promising a dozen false dawns, radio has finally managed to deliver. Steadily rising audiences, the availability of national campaigns, and simpler planning and buying have all played their part, but few doubt that the real catalyst has been the Radio Advertising Bureau, which has sold the medium and expanded the radio cake. Television airtime sales, meanwhile, have also started to become more competitive. The regional ITV companies no longer have a total local monopoly. First TV-am, then BSkyB and Channel 4 offered advertisers an alternative. You might think this would have focused the TV companies’ minds on increasing the cake that was about to be sliced more thinly. But buyers have differing views as to how far they are trying to change things.

CIA Medianetwork TV buying director Josh Dovey says: “There is an acknowledgment that they’re in a competitive market, but I don’t think they yet know what to do about it. Yet 30 per cent of the money that used to go through their bank accounts no longer does so, because Channel 4 now sells itself and advertisers are putting more of their budgets onto other channels.”

Rob Stephens, a director of John Ayling & Associates, says: “ITV hasn’t changed its attitude at all – the companies still don’t market themselves to agencies and advertisers.

“Some do publish case histories but they’re not very sophisticated or detailed. They’re focusing on their share of the TV market, not trying to expand it.”

Even Channel 4, despite its success, with revenue growing last year by 17 per cent, is accused by some of concentrating on winning a greater share of the existing TV market, not finding new advertisers. BSkyB likewise.

But television is still the most powerful medium, the one all advertisers and agencies aspire to. Given that the ad agencies do such a powerful job selling television to their clients, do TV companies need to do more than put their own individual cases?

Yes, they must, and they will, according to Mick Desmond, chief executive of Granada/LWT sales house Laser. “We lost our customer focus,” he says. “The ITV brand has suffered among advertisers, yet the product – programmes and audiences – has become a lot stronger since the ITV Network Centre took over.

“We haven’t communicated that, so we’re about to launch a new marketing drive – and we need to find a new positioning. As brand leader, ITV must develop TV’s share of the market.” Stephens says they should take a leaf out of radio’s book. “The RAB has ex-agency staff who think strategically. They look at a brand and ask what role radio can play in its development.”

Put simply, radio, as a smaller medium, has to try harder. The same is true of some of the satellite and cable TV companies. Stephens is impressed by United Artists Programming, which runs half-a-dozen cable channels and, like radio, has brought in ad agency expertise.

He says: “The Learning Channel is being positioned like a magazine sell. It’s not on BARB – instead it has themed breaks, putting together commercials on baby food, cooking, wine, camcorders or whatever, to take advantage of the specialist programming. It’s one of the few examples of innovative selling in TV and we welcome it greatly.”

With more and more cable and satellite channels being launched – locally and nationally – such techniques will become increasingly common. And as cable and satellite’s share of viewing continues to erode that of the terrestrial channels, they will have an increasingly strong case to make.

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