News takes centre stage in TV rethink

Television news is undergoing a rethink. ITN’s decision to appoint a head of marketing last week mirrors the BBC’s decision last month to hire a head of news marketing. Both appointments come as a number of TV channels are about to relaunch their flagship news programmes.

Station heads are waking up to the significance of their news brands and the financial potential of their archives. Digital, which arrives this week with the launch of BSkyB’s service, threatens to provide the public with so much to watch that it is already putting pressure on newsgatherers to maintain their audiences.

The cultural importance of the news has been highlighted by the recent furore surrounding the proposed change to the schedule for ITV’s main news programme from 10pm to 6pm – even the Prime Minister has got involved.

The BBC appointed former Ammirati Puris Lintas managing partner Anna Gorman as head of news marketing in August (MW August 27). She has a broad remit which covers all news on network TV and radio, BBC Online, Ceefax, and the corporation’s specialist channels BBC News 24 and BBC World. Her brief also includes news-led programmes like Newsnight, Panorama and Today.

Her duties will be to develop these brands, to oversee advertising campaigns and programme laun-ches, and to promote the corporation’s services abroad.

Sue Farr, BBC marketing director, says: “The first thing Anna has to do is develop an integrated marketing strategy. The objective has yet to be decided.”

MediaCom’s director of satellite and digital TV, Ivan Clark, says: “It’s about time the channels appointed people to these roles. I can’t remember the last time I saw a campaign for the news on any of the main channels.

“One way they could go is to promote the newscasters as stars, but this has been attempted before. And they might want to try something fresh.”

Gorman’s role is crucial. The BBC may not face commercial pressure from advertisers, but to a large degree, the image of a channel is fixed by its news programmes. The success of Channel 5’s news format and its lead presenter Kirsty Young is a case in point.

Martin Lambie-Nairn, creative director of branding consultancy Lambie-Nairn, says: “The BBC is a reference point for the nation, so its news reinforces its position of authority as a public service provider.”

Farr adds: “The news is vitally important to the BBC. It’s the cornerstone of our relationship with the viewers.”

A spokeswoman for Channel 4, which is relaunching C4 News in January, echoes the sentiment: “It’s a vital part of the identity of this channel. It’s one of the jewels in our crown.”

The relaunch of Channel 4 News partly came about because the station asked ITN to repitch for its position as the network’s news provider.

It was the first time that ITN had to pitch for its space on the channel, and this shows how much competition is increasing between news providers. Nowadays, the need to market and differentiate yourself from other providers has become essential.

To this end, ITN recently appointed David Robinson as its first head of marketing. He comes from Lambie-Nairn, where he helped create the new identity for ITN Archives (MW September 24).

One of his main roles will be to seek new business. He says: “I have to ensure that our clients are positive about our product.”

He will also market the company’s archive footage. Hiring out news archives is a growing business and current estimates of its global value range from 50m to 100m a year. ITN Archive is expanding rapidly – it entered a joint venture with Reuters in July, under which it will market Reuters’ television archives.

Clark sees the new ITN post as responding to increased competition. He says: “I see this as a rearguard action by ITN. It knows that its position as the news provider for the terrestrial networks is not set in stone as it used to be. It needs to look at other sources of revenue.”

The drive behind all these moves is to ensure news – which is one of the costliest items on a channel’s budget – is authoritative, while keeping its audience.

As Nick Pollard, head of Sky News, says: “There is a debate now on how to move the news forward when there are so many things to watch. Not so long ago, there were only two principal news providers [ITN and the BBC]. There are more in the game now.”

Pollard reveals that Sky News will also sport a new logo and a new look when Sky Digital launches this Thursday.

As one BBC insider comments: “Audiences are going down and news is a competitive market. There is no doubt that the news should be made more accessible.”

Pollard adds: “I don’t see anything wrong with listening to your audience and taking what they think into account. Some people say you mustn’t do that, that you must give them what you think is right. It’s healthy to be attuned to what your audience wants.”

These new marketers are an essential support system for the newsgatherers in helping to keep audience figures up in an increasingly diversified TV market.

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