TV’s gamble at Monte Carlo

Can it really be just two years ago – at TV93 – that ITV Network Centre chief executive Andrew Quinn announced the appointment of Dick Emery as director of market strategy? His arrival coincided with details of a new sales committee structure. Advertisers were promised new systems to evaluate its performance more effectively and prove its worth.

Alas for ITV, Emery’s stay was short-lived. Despite noises from across the network that the new, streamlined sales structure reduced red tape and bureaucracy, many still await true evidence that the network really can market itself effectively. This week allows ITV a golden opportunity to set the record straight – at the TV95 conference, sponsored by Marketing Week, in Monte Carlo.

Competition and choice. That is what advertisers want more of from British TV companies. The former, to ensure the growing concentration of broadcast power into fewer hands does not work against advertisers’ best interests; the latter, for the additional reason of benefiting viewers. But does extra choice actually encourage more viewing? The experience of UK cable and satellite TV would suggest not. What will be the impact of Channel 5? And how can ITV ensure it stays one step ahead, not just of new competition, but of Channel 4 as well? These issues and more will be the focus for debate.

According to exclusive research to be presented by Millward Brown, the widely-accepted decline in TV viewing is as much to do with public perceptions of poor programming as it is to do with less leisure time. This should stimulate vigorous discussion among broadcasters and advertisers alike. Of course, ITV has scored recent ratings and viewing share successes, and the study does acknowledge that of all the TV companies, the BBC has come off much worse. But that’s not saying much. The point is, viewers perceive other things in life to have improved ahead of what they see on the box. Some advertisers also remain unconvinced.

The onus is now on ITV to prove its worth, over and beyond the volume of its audience. Everything now depends on how effectively ITV can market its message. This, many believe, remains open to question. Tough talk about advertiser benefits, hard facts about new marketing initiatives and an imminent advertising campaign are being billed for the conference. It will be interesting to see if reality can match the hype.

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