Thinkbox wobble

For an organisation so keen to talk about TV, Thinkbox is remarkably coy when it comes to itself. The TV marketing body responded to mounting speculation last week that ITV was ready to pull the plug on its investment by saying nothing – publicly, at least.

Thinkbox’s board hoped to quash the rumours by writing to a number of publications, including Marketing Week. Chief executive Tess Alps, fellow board members and ITV insist: “There is no story”.

Perhaps not. But it is clear that, for the moment at least, ITV remains onboard – its mighty investment safe and the immediate future of Thinkbox body secure. Yet the broadcaster has clearly been mulling its commitment to Thinkbox, which it co-founded in February 2005 with seven other commercial broadcasters and sales houses, including Channel 4, Five and Sky Media.

One agency head says: “Ian McCulloch [ITV’s commercial director] phoned me personally to ask what I thought about its continued investment in Thinkbox.” Others report similar conversations with the commercial chief and his team.

Grade review
Another believes the supposed rethink was triggered by Michael Grade’s 100-day review – launched by the executive chairman shortly after he arrived and concluded internally just weeks ago.

“Grade has made it abundantly clear to the world at large that he wants to put every last penny he has on screen and cut costs elsewhere,” says the source. “If that were the case then it does make a sort of sense to cut out of Thinkbox.”

Founder member IDS resigned from the board and pulled its investment “on a matter of principle” in August last year. Its departure was clearly a blow, but not a fatal one. However, such is ITV’s commercial clout that it is unlikely Thinkbox could survive without it.

With the size of each sales house’s investment decided by share of impacts, ITV contributes about 40% of Thinkbox’s budget. With its annual subscription thought to run into the multi-millions, it is little wonder it wants to research and review that investment with stakeholders, says a rival sales head.

“We have done research ourselves asking advertisers, planners and buyers about what they think of Thinkbox and rival commercial channels,” adds the source. “It’s quite right to ask if Thinkbox is doing the right thing. I am absolutely convinced that it is a story about absolutely nothing. ITV is committed to it and committed to funding it for some time ahead.

“My job is a damn sight easier with Thinkbox. It is doing a good job. There is a far more positive feeling about TV and a lot of that is down to Thinkbox being out there,” the source adds.

After a slow start, the organisation started making headway by employing former PHD head Alps as its chief executive and making the body a legal entity. A second conference, Thinkbox Experience, was held in March this year, and received mainly positive reviews from the industry.

As one sales executive says/ “I am bored of all the debate and people asking if Thinkbox is going to fold. We want to be talking about where it is going next.” 

Media agencies and clients had lambasted the organisation for doing little of value to sell the medium or itself (MW February 16, 2006). This remains the case for some executives, but others believe the two-year-old organisation is coming of age.

Work collectively
One such supporter says: “ITV, or any of the remaining members, would be mad to want to leave. I get the feeling that they are wanting to work collectively, properly, for the good of TV.” However, another argues: “If they could leave, they should, because it is rubbish. One client is looking to invest on TV for the first time, which prompted me to the site for case studies and figures. But the data was out of date and the website useless.” 

Such differences of opinion and the rumours about its future seem set to continue for as long as Thinkbox is the mouthpiece of commercial TV.

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