Growing burdens of buying TV airtime

Advertisers were in militant mood at TV 2001 in Madrid. ITV, ad clutter and Chris Smith’s proposals all received a battering. Amanda Wilkinson reports

The role of the BBC and ITV in a multi-channel environment, the impact of reality TV and the issue of clutter were among the key topics of discussion at TV 2001 in Madrid.

There were no surprises in the conference’s opening keynote address from the Secretary of State for Culture Media and Sport, Chris Smith. He attempted to justify the move in the Government’s Communications White Paper to leave the BBC outside the jurisdiction of the single industry regulator Ofcom on the basis that the broadcaster has a “special remit”.

Smith warned that, once the changes to ownership rules embodied in the White Paper have been implemented, any move to establish a single ITV would be subject to competition rules. “One of the key things they will look at is the impact on the advertising industry,” said the Secretary of State, who acknowledged that a single ITV, with two sales houses, is an option that could allow fair competition.

Speaking on a panel representing the interests of advertisers, European media manager at Mars Angus McIntosh dismissed this possible solution as “nonsense”. Following the line taken by the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers, he said: “We want a strong ITV I don’t think a single owner is necessary.” He added: “As advertisers we say ‘no’ to further consolidation of sales points in the future.”

But Nestlé Rowntree director of marketing Andrew Harrison, who was speaking at the conference on multi-platform campaigns, believes there will be “a single ITV sales house sooner or later”. He even went as far as to call for one-stop shops for the purchase of all forms of media.

The ratings war between ITV and BBC inevitably reared its head. The BBC’s controller of strategy and marketing Jane Scott, while refusing to admit that the battle was in full flow, said: “The BBC wants to be successful. The more viewers we havethe more value for money.” She added: ” It is the BBC’s ambition to have programming that appeals to all audience groups.”

In contrast, marketing and commercial director for ITV Network John Hardie accused the BBC of “imitating” the ITV schedule and claimed victory over the Corporation. He said that since January ITV had a 37.9 per cent share of audience at peak time, up two per cent on last year, and that ITV was 10.6 points ahead of the BBC since the start of the year. He said: “It’s time for advertisers to rediscover the power of mass TV.”

Hardie admitted ITV’s ratings’ success was mainly due to “breakthrough destination programmes” such as reality TV show Popstars. He said the same strategy will continue to be employed in the multichannel environment to “install in viewers’ heads a virtual schedule of what is on ITV”.

Making an impact in the minds of the viewers is also a problem facing advertisers, when it comes to clutter in ad breaks. John Billett, chairman of the Billet Consultancy claimed that the clutter was getting worse, and varied by channel.

His latest study, Clutter Exposed, looked at peak-time viewing for one evening per channel between February 14 and 17. The study examined ITV in London and Sky One – both of which were covered in a previous study in October 1999 – as well as Channel 4 and UK Gold. Billett found ITV has increased non-editorial content by two minutes, with spot advertising up to ten minutes and programming down to 48 minutes per hour. The report found that Sky One has taken another minute out of its 45 minutes of programmes, with UK Gold almost matching its levels. Channel 4 is at the same level as ITV, but with an additional minute of on-air promotions.

The research shows that channels manage on-air promotions differently and that ITV has increased the proportion of on-air promotions in centre breaks from ten per cent to 16 per cent. Sky One has reduced its centre break promotions from 63 per cent to 57 per cent, with UK Gold delivering the same levels as Sky One. Channel 4 allocates two per cent of its on-air promotions, during peak time, to centre breaks.

Billett said: “Promotions help to encouraging viewing, which advertisers appreciate. But in a channel switching environment, when volume increases and location pre-empts paid advertising, promotions have reduced advertising effectiveness.”

He demanded that on-air promotions do not take precedence over paid-for advertising; the publication of the volume and location of on-air promotions and sponsorship bumpers; and that research should be carried out to measure ad recall in multi-channel homes. He also called for advertisers to push for industry standards to protect the “effectiveness of brand advertising”.

Bernard Balderston, associate director for UK media at Procter & Gamble, backed Billett: “The more viewers are bombarded with messages, the more it is the right of advertisers to get more information.”

Flextech sales director Mark Howe justified the use of on-air promotions, saying: “We are directing viewers to other channelsto create greater ratings and to add value for advertisers.”

While industry opinions on the effect of the White Paper, and a multi-channel environment on advertisers and broadcasters remain divided, a clearer picture is likely to emerge by the time next year’s conference comes around.

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