At last year’s Barcelona TV Conference all eyes were on the media owners. How would they take their first steps into digital TV, and how would the established terrestrial channels such as ITV put a brake on declining audiences?
One year on, most of the basic questions surrounding digital TV – how will it be sold? what channels will it offer? what will it cost? – ,have been answered, while the pressure on ITV to change has eased after an improved performance in 1998 and a good start to 1999.
This year the conference organisers are making a determined effort to shift the spotlight onto clients, and to consider media in the wider context of their businesses during the three-day show.
The first day of the event on March 10 begins and ends with a panel discussion involving senior marketing and media management. The first of these, How to Get Your
Marketing Budget to Work Better in the Current Economic Climate, features Martin Glenn, president of Walkers Snack Foods; Patrick Burton, vice-president – media and brands communication at Allied Domecq; and Mike Sommers, director of marketing consultancy SRU and a former marketing director at Woolworths.
The panel will consider the position of the marketer in the light of a possible recession and against the unstoppable march of internationalisation. They will also look at the relationship in the company hierarchy between the marketing function and the finance director, as well as the shareholders. In a number of companies, category management has largely taken power away from the marketing department and spread it across a number of functions, with responsibilities split horizontally across a company rather than vertically.
If marketing becomes less compartmentalised, with some of the traditional marketing responsibilities being taken over by other areas, it leaves the conventional marketing director’s role adrift in the company structure.
Marketers will have to fight to keep their status in the boardroom. Linked to this, advertising agencies face the danger of being delegated to working with less senior clients because the real strategic decision-makers have less time to concentrate solely on advertising.
As part of the debate, Glenn will give his assessment of the relative values of new communication channels such as home shopping, database marketing and the Internet. As the conference unfolds, there will be presentations to bring delegates up to date with developments in digital TV, interactivity, and convergence between the TV and the Internet.
Glenn is expected to argue that despite the economy and efficiency of these media, they are still marginal. For him, the real issue is about ITV and how it proposes to lure more of the coveted 16- to 24-year-old audience. He will throw down © the gauntlet to ITV chief executive Richard Eyre, whose eagerly awaited speech rounds off the conference on the following day.
The second panel discussion chaired by John Hooper, the director-general of the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers, focuses on what clients want from television. It features Rowan Gormley, chief executive of Virgin Direct; Mike Moran, marketing director of Toyota UK; Andy Jones, marketing operations director of Vauxhall Motors; and Eric Salamon, general manager corporate marketing European groceries for Heinz.
One line of argument during this session that recurs in other presentations on the first day is that TV contractors should offer clients more tangible evidence of the results of TV advertising.
Advertisers are under increasing pressure to convince their finance directors that they are spending their budgets wisely, and that they don’t need more proof of return on investment. The notion of brand evaluation may have been successfully sold to shareholders, but it is up to the marketer to keep proving that value.
Advertisers are also more sceptical of the value of mass channels because they have more options from which to choose.
As David Pattison, chief executive of media agency New PHD, says: “TV is coming under scrutiny. Clients are not in awe of TV any more. They know it’s only one part of their marketing armoury.”
Marketing Week revealed last month that ITV sales house TSMS was considering extending its TV-Span initiative (where the effects of TV advertising viewing on purchasing are measured) from one ITV region to the whole network. It will be interesting to see how ITV and other contractors respond to calls to improve their accountability at this year’s conference.
TV inflation has been largely pushed off the UK agenda in recent months, but it is a subject never far from advertisers’ minds and will be considered at TV Barcelona. One media manager predicts inflation will rise towards the end of this year and into 2000.
He says: “Last year ITV benefited from the changes in the BARB universes (giving it more impacts in certain coveted demographic categories such as young men) and the World Cup factor, which both offset media inflation. But advertisers are demanding as much ITV airtime as ever and it will make inflation a hot topic again soon.”
Dominic Proctor, chief operating officer at MindShare Worldwide, and Alan Rutherford, the worldwide media head of WPP client Unilever, will look at how countries are tackling TV inflation.
MindShare has just completed a piece of major research into the effects of TV inflation and ways of avoiding it, which will be outlined at the conference. Proctor explains MindShare’s decision to carry out the research: “We are a brand new company. When you sit down and ask clients what their principal concerns are, inflation comes back time and again.”
The role of agencies will also be debated during the conference, with Peter Mead, chairman of Abbott Mead Vickers.BBDO, giving his views including his belief that channel zapping will not be a problem for advertising that can “entertain, involve and empathise with consumers”.
Various speakers over the two-day conference will consider alternatives to the traditional 30-second spot, and address the balance of power between the advertising agency and the media agency.
Mike Moran, marketing director for Toyota GB, observes: “Media could be the stimulus for a creative campaign. You don’t start with the 30-second ad and spin it out into other media. You think about the communication challenge and the right sort of media for that challenge. There has been a shift in emphasis in the roles of creative and media.”
New PHD’s Pattison will consider innovative ways of getting advertising messages across, such as advertiser-funded programming, masthead TV, infomercials, interactive advertising and even one-second advertising.
With such an array of options, it could be argued that media owners have the most to lose from these innovations.
Even though the major commercial channels continue to be valuable media to advertisers, there is nevertheless a more guarded view of them. But just how far the balance of power is shifting away from those traditional media owners continues to be a subject of debate.