TV revenue rise will be cold comfort in Prague

The first signs of recovery are showing, but with TV still in deep turmoil, there will be little to raise the spirits of pundits at TV 2002

Spring beckons and green shoots are beginning to appear in the TV advertising market, which has been subjected to a severe downturn in the past 18 months.

Commercial broadcasters will be breathing a sigh of relief as they gather for the Marketing Week TV 2002 Conference in Prague this week.

Early figures indicate that total TV revenue and even ITV revenue are expected to be up on last year for May. It is the first time since December 2000 that total TV revenue has increased year on year for one month.

But TV buyers are keen to point out that total TV revenue for May is unlikely to beat the same month in 2000, which was still riding high off the back of the dot-com boom and strong economic conditions.

At the TV conference, TV companies are likely to focus on persuading advertisers to back TV as a medium.

Mark Howe, managing director of Interactive Digital Sales, formerly the sales division of Flextech and now a subsidiary of the company, is concerned that advertisers are diverting money into posters and radio at the expense of TV. Howe, who will be on a panel at the conference debating the future of the TV advertising market, says: “TV has got to sell TV. We have to tell advertisers that there has never been a better time to be on TV. There are plenty of clever integration opportunities on TV with the Sky Digital platform and cable.”

ITV marketing and commercial director Jim Hytner will be talking about how ITV is going to “re-engage” with advertisers and viewers through marketing.

Andrew Molle, marketing director at Specsavers, says: “Given ITV’s inexorable decline I am looking forward to hearing what its new plans are going to be, and I am expecting something pretty startling in terms of strategy.”

Last year, ITV1’s share of all-time viewing continued to decline and BBC1 for the first time beat the channel, albeit by 0.01 per cent. BBC1 increased its daytime lead over ITV1 by 6.6 per cent.

A commercial BBC is of concern to Angus McIntosh, European media manager for Mars and chairman of the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers TV Action Group, who will be on the panel with Howe. “We have this very commercial BBC and we know that advertisers want to make sure that it comes fully under Ofcom,” he says. “It seems to me the BBC is pushing its public service remit to the margins.”

But Secretary of State for Culture Media and Sport Tessa Jowell will make it clear in her address to the conference that the Communications Bill, expected to be published on April 26, will, despite speculation to the contrary, reflect the terms of the White Paper and guarantee that the BBC will be regulated by Ofcom as well as BBC governors. She claims that this will place the corporation under tighter day-to-day regulation than commercial channels.

In the address, she says: “To finish the point about the BBC there will be an opportunity with Charter renewal, which begins in 2004, to assess the new regulatory structure and the effectiveness of the new division.”

Jowell also says that she is not convinced the BBC’s planned youth channel, BBC 3, is distinctive enough and confirms that she is awaiting further information on the impact the channel will have on commercial rivals before making a decision on its future.

On the separate issue of cross-media ownership, she refuses to be drawn on the terms of the forthcoming Communications Bill.

Apart from the increasing commercialisation of the BBC the other hot topic on the agenda will be the issue of a single ITV. Despite the announcement at the beginning of March that merger talks between Carlton Communications and Granada have collapsed, many are convinced that once the official Stock Exchange two-month cooling-off period has expired, the two ITV companies will announce a deal that will get round current regulatory concerns.

At last week’s ISBA conference, Granada chief executive Steve Morrison said that he would be willing to discuss with advertisers and the rest of the advertising community “how one ITV can sell airtime” while getting round competition fears of market dominance.

There are also industry concerns about the future of troubled ITV Digital. In her address, Jowell makes it clear that a decision on the closure of the platform is a matter for Carlton and Granada, but she adds: “We are very keen indeed that the platform survives because it’s important that consumers have choice.”

Consumers will soon have the chance to buy digital TV adapters which allow them to receive free-to-air digital channels for as little as &£99 when companies such as Pace start selling them in April. But it remains to be seen how the TV companies will support the launch of these adapter boxes, some of which may be equipped with the facility to receive other digital channels on a pay-as-you-go basis. There is talk of a kite mark that will be placed on boxes to show they meet criteria set down by the TV channels.

Advertisers will also have the opportunity to vent their anger at delays in establishing a new TV audience panel when BARB’s chief executive Caroline McDevitt speaks at the conference on Friday.

TV is half way through a period of immense change, and it will not be until next year that advertisers, TV buyers and broadcasters have a better idea of where they stand and whether TV and TV advertising has recovered from the downturn.

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