It’s time to face issues at TV 97

Over the years, Monte Carlo has become synonymous with extravagant media bash. And so it is: in fact a book ought to be opened for whoever successfully claims the first 25 dry martini.

Heaven forfend, of course, that media should be joyless – and Jonathan Durden’s skilful and amusing double-act with Tess Alps in 1995 showed this need be far from the case – but TV 97 also requires a serious purpose. Beyond the glad-handing, conspicuous alcoholic consumption and conspiratorial networking lies a painstaking two-day conference programme. It would be a mistake simply to exploit this as convenient camouflage for more colourful activities, as it offers one of the few genuine platforms for debate on commercial broadcast issues currently available. And right now, there are quite a few of those issues in dire need of debate.

Considerable responsibility for addressing them rests on television executives themselves. It’s no longer good enough (if it ever was) to prevaricate on inflation, falling audiences and minutage with the aid of pious platitudes and a few programme clips (well, rather a lot in Andrea Wonfor’s case, last time round). The balance of power has now altered so drastically that even ITV executives, if they are wise, will guard against complacency.

So much change offers excellent opportunities for showcase issues. There is, for example, the launch of Channel 5, the last terrestrial TV station. And, just down the road, the dawn of digital television, which ought to put advertisers on their mettle. After all, they have a lot to learn. As Rob Bartlett, a Wella executive, pithily put it recently: “I want to know where my ads are going to go. And I want to know what will be the increased cost of advertising in the future as TV gets more fragmented.”

Quite right too, Rob. But will you and other advertisers at the conference stand up and be counted? A bit of esprit d’escalier in the lifts and back-biting in the bars is all very well, but it doesn’t move the agenda on. TV executives will only get off their soap boxes and deal with the difficult questions – like why advertisers are still lumbered with the ludicrous anachronism of station average price – if they are forced to do so. The session chaired by Craig Pearman on Thursday and starring such industry luminaries as John Blakemore, Tim Pile, Phil Georgiadis and John Billett should provide a splendid opening for addressing such issues.

Monte Carlo report, page 45

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