ITV must shape up to greet new Millennium

Harold Wilson borrowed the original “100 Days” concept from Jack Kennedy. This was before the 1964 Election and Wilson mused that the incoming Labour government would have to do what JFK had done “after years of stagnation in the US… 100 days of dynamic action”.

ITV chief executive Richard Eyre’s 100 days were up this week and cunningly the title of his presentation, “The three-year plan for ITV”, bought him some time. It wasn’t about finding the Holy Grail, more a status report on activity to date and how he and his colleagues would hold themselves accountable.

The main task was to clarify and quantify the success criteria by which ITV will be measured against a background of increased competition, digital, Internet use and the perceived or real decline of ITV’s output.

The good news for Eyre is that everyone agrees that ITV “could do better”.

ITV director of programmes David Liddiment revealed his plans to get the network’s programmes talked about – a schedule that is ambitious, challenging and popular.

Both advertisers and agencies want a strong, innovative ITV which delivers a mass audience but marries it with demographic needs. Drama, comedy drama, popular factual shows and more sport seem to be the order of the day. Early peak time needs to be addressed, as does daytime off-peak and post peak.

The disappointment was that no programme information was forthcoming. Something which would have had the exact effect in the advertising community which ITV is trying to get from the viewer.

For marketing director John Hardie the real question is, is ITV a true brand with the consumer or are the programmes the heroes? My view is ITV’s challenge is to give the customer the product they want while maintaining its share and improving its content.

For the first time ITV set out measurable targets by which it was prepared to be judged and while it was made clear these weren’t guarantees, that’s how they will be used.

ITV is pitching against BBC1 rather than other commercial channels. It has looked at peak share rather than all-time share. Both of these are fair. The BBC is always going to be a tough base and ITV’s true competitor. Peak time is also fair, particularly as the bases grow in 1999 and 2000. Obviously, something dramatic, like shifting News at Ten or upping Coronation Street to five nights a week, would ease the task significantly but would be seen as a slightly underhand method.

ITV is targeting measurable gains in profile versus ABC1s and housewives in daytime. Given the ABC1 profile is expected to grow significantly and that ITV’s daytime product only has one way to go, neither of these are challenging enough. ITV shied away from any age break but it should perhaps look to benchmark its performance against 25 to 44-year-olds in peak time and 16 to 24-year-olds at night.

ITV has passed the first test of ensuring the word “customer” means something and effectively putting its neck on the block long term. But an annual or three-year time frame is too long. There are commercial realities to consider as 1999 deals will be agreed from September. ITV needs to have turned the corner by then with tangible performance improvements. Its business base will depend on it.

See Torin Douglas page 17

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