ITV should be investing in programming to build itself up as a brand to see off threats from new media, declining total viewing and TV fragmentation, according to a number of TV95 speakers.
Granada joint managing director Andrea Wonfor argued that network complacency and cost-cutting would lead ITV into a downward spiral.
Instead she wants to see ITV extend its investment in programming into off-peak day parts to help extend the coherence of the brand. Any regulatory changes to ITV, she said should allow the network to grow and invest.
“We want a financial base that underwrites programming needs and advertisers needs,” she declared. “If ITV didn’t exist advertisers would have to invent it. It is a one-stop Sainsbury’s superstore for audiences.”
She said the next battle would be for the afternoons, where social changes were making the audience more attractive. Channel 4 sales director Andy Barnes also said Channel 4 would be looking to invest in the afternoon daypart, with tenders already issued for two programmes and a series of first-run movies planned.
Wonfor also wants to see the network make a stronger effort to brand itself in the shoulder-peak period after the ten o’clock news where it at present breaks up into local programming.
This shoulder-peak period is ideal, she said, for developing more alternative and pilot programming that if successful could later transfer to peak time.
To supplement the network’s own programming investment in off-peak dayparts could also be used to try out advertiser-funded programming.
Technological change, such as video on demand, will enhance the role of TV, not undermine it, argued Martin Bowley, managing director of Carlton UK Sales. It was other media, he maintained, that would suffer from loss of audiences as entertainment and information super-highways developed.
While interactive media might be used to build relationships with consumers in new ways, brands would still rely on TV to build their original images.
Pattison Horswell Durden partner Jonathan Durden maintained that the current turmoil taking place in the television was due to influences outside the control of the medium.
He said that technology was driving fragmentation, as was legislation offering more choice to viewers and changes in social behaviour causing a break with passive viewing.
David Hearn, chief executive of UB Snackfoods Europe, agreed that advertisers wanted to see TV remain their core communication vehicle, but ITV needed to build up what he sees as its weak brand personality.
While mass-market TV might be here to stay there was a danger the prime audiences desired by advertisers might be the ones to fall. Advertisers wanted greater investment in programming, especially areas such as youth, comedy and sports strands where BSkyB and Channel 4 are strong. “ITV has to replace the attention-getting sport programming that has moved to satellite. And if it fails to be the primary medium for the young it will move into long term decline.”