British broadcasters in the Nineties face a conundrum, delegates heard. Despite an increase in channel choice, overall, UK TV viewing has slipped by 4.6 per cent in the past two years.
Millward Brown managing director Rosi Ware said viewers perceptions of poor programming and the better performance of other media were to blame.
“Poor programme perceptions were strongest among over-55s, empty nesters, C2DE women and teenagers,” she said. Her assertions were based on a survey of 500 adults, aged 15-plus, questioned about how they spend their leisure time.
“It’s lost a lot of its social currency,” she added, although commercial TV fared better than the BBC. The only real – if marginal – increase in viewing was for cable and satellite TV.
Ware’s findings later seemed to be reinforced by CIA Medianetwork media planning director Graeme Hutton. He revealed that, according to the CIA’s Sensor survey, 72 per cent of the public agree that TV programmes have not improved or got worse.
Ware and Hutton’s assertions were subsequently questioned by Taylor Nelson/AGB director Stephen Buck. Such surveys have long suggested viewer dissatisfaction, he said. Findings are inevitably coloured by the “good old days syndrome” and should be viewed with caution.
“Choice does not necessarily mean more viewing, but it does mean more discriminating viewing,” BSkyB director of programmes David Elstein argued. This sentiment was acknowledged by ITV Network Director Marcus Plantin.
Since TV93, ITV has worked hard to develop a sharper schedule to enable the viewer to know what to expect, Plantin told delegates. Donning the mantle of ITV brand manager, he claimed ITV is now instantly recognisable – with quality product attributes.
Audience decline is inevitable but small, said Plantin. ITV must respond by making programming that’s “special”.
Responding to veiled criticism that the recent £20m increase – about four per cent – in ITV’s network budget this year, he added: “It is sufficient to maintain our brand leadership. We will do more in terms of marketing.”
The strategic proposition offered by all broadcasters is a key concern of advertisers.
“How realistic is it to expect one voice from ITV?” asked Kellogg marketing director Rob Morgan. “There’s a thin line between collaboration and competition.”
He went on to highlight the increased concentration of power into fewer hands resulting from last year’s ITV sales house rationalisation, but added: “Centralisation of sales houses is the symptom, not the disease itself.”
There is no true choice for the airtime buyer, he said. “I think ITV should have one sales point – and so should the BBC.”
Sales representatives from Laser, UK Living/Gold and Channel 4 attempted to ease his fears. Laser chief executive Mick Desmond argued that the ITV sales team have taken “huge steps” to redress the balance. “One is a change in how we sell a different positioning in marketing terms. The second is a change in how and what I think you should buy.”
Desmond discussed research that showed that ITV’s peaktime audience is not only the largest mass audience, but the most loyal. And he attempted to prove that the elusive light viewer can be effectively reached by ITV.
“That’s part of our change in positioning – from mere quantity to great quality,” he said. So renewed emphasis is being put on better considered broadcast sponsorships, and encouraging advertisers to consider involvement in a range of programme-related activities – from co-funding to merchandising.
“We’ve done too many last minute (sponsorship) deals,” he conceded. Now Network Centre is able to present network schedule highlights a year in advance. Closer, longer term relationships will drive this business forward.
“At present, the full commercial value of our proposition is not being realised,” he added.
Maybe, but assembled broadcasters and advertisers departed with a single message ringing in their ears. If it did nothing else, TV95 again reinforced the need for TV marketing itself better.
Perhaps a more fitting theme for TV95 would have been “Market or die”. Irrespective of whether you actually believe programmes have got poorer, the fact remains this is the perception.