TV WATCH

As terrestrial TV channels struggle to combat airtime inflation, some industry observers are arguing that the ITC should liberalise their remit

This summer saw a string of interesting theories emerge on how to solve or soothe the price spiral on ITV. Most of these ideas have centred on either increasing the ad minutage levels on our existing stations or diverting some form of advertising to the BBC.

The debate over extra minutage will continue until the ITC says “yes” or “no”. Just for a moment, imagine the answer is no. Imagine that the Government is unsympathetic towards complaints about the twists and turns of the free market. What then?

Three issues are worthy of discussion, whatever the minutage outcome and particularly if the result is negative.

Existing rules and regulations should be relaxed for the commercial terrestrial stations. It is difficult to reconcile a situation where the public still funds two channels – and the majority of folk can afford to buy access to cable and satellite – while a set of remit handcuffs restrict our so-called commercial stations.

It is very difficult to put a figure on how many ratings are lost to advertisers because ITV, in particular, is locked into a certain amount of “remit” broadcasting. We estimate that a fully commercialised ITV could deliver at least five per cent more impacts if restrictions were lifted.

Would this lower programme standards? – with Mick Des-mond’s holiday videos running in peak time? Unlikely. ITV’s long-term future is still dependent upon producing a balance of programming that attracts a broad range of viewers and advertisers.

Secondly, if the BBC is to continue as it is for the next decade, its own future “remit”, published in the Extending Choice document two years ago, needs to be restated. We must lobby hard to get the BBC to supply different programmes to ITV.

Thirdly, the industry needs to do some serious thinking about how we should conduct TV business in the future.

We’ve looked at alternatives to station average price before, but the fact is no panacea exists. All airtime trading mechanisms have their weaknesses.

But how much longer can we continue to trade with a system that allows money to be committed without us knowing what is going to be delivered?

Part of the problem about today’s TV inflation is the fact that predicting the rate of increase is almost impossible.

Marketing directors and media buyers have to ask themselves whether the level of ratings required to help achieve a marketing strategy has a discrete logic to it. Or can gross rating points be 30 per cent lower in one period purely because of TV market factors and not affect the marketing strategy?

Maybe it’s too late to change. Maybe the highly competitive media specialist market will always prevent us from using our common sense. All that’s at stake, after all, is whether TV airtime has a positive value above that of commodity.

ITV NETWORK COST PER THOUSAND

ALL ADULTS 1994 V 19930-second equivalents

January +12%

February +9%

March +11%

April +24%

May +14%

June +15%

July +10%

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