An autumn end to ITV’s long fall

ITV’s appointment of Clare Salmon as marketing director brings to a close the long and circuitous quest to replace Jim Hytner. It’s an apt symbol, perhaps, of the commercial television company’s wider frustrations in 2004 drawing to some sort of satisfactory conclusion.

Because, make no mistake, on the surface it has been a very bad year for ITV. A weak summer schedule, and a mauling by the BBC at the time of the Olympics, conspired to give ITV some of the worst ratings of all time. Advertisers have not been slow to punish it. At one time, thanks to the contract rights renewal (CRR) mechanism, it looked as if ITV might be up to four per cent off next year – equivalent to &£100m in lost revenue.

In the event, an autumn sales revival has put paid to much of this scaremongering. The maximum exposure to loss looks likely to be a ‘mere’ &£65m, and this in any case assumes that advertisers maximise their right, under CRR, to cut spend.

Fortunately for Salmon, and even more pointedly for her advertiser-facing co-adjutant, director of customer relationship management Justin Sampson, there are good reasons for supposing they will not do so.

Because, on a number of fronts, 2005 looks like being a much better year for ITV. Salmon will be able to capitalise on a programming budget that now exceeds &£1bn. And, as the person charged with digital channel development, she will be able to talk up the successes of Freeview, ITV2 and the recent ITV3 launch. In the content-diluting world of multi-channel TV, ITVs 2 and 3 appear to be making a strong, contrasting offering.

Equally, as ITV draws strength from putting its own house in order, it may well benefit from the increasing disarray of some of its commercial competitors. Of these, only Channel 4, with its year-on-year improvement in audience, appears fit enough to take share off a resurgent ITV. IDS has done well but is small. Five looks overcooked and Sky Media underperforming (though caution is in order here: Sky One has improved and the full potential of the Nick Milligan/Paul Curtis team has yet to be realised).

But, putting aside for the moment intra-necine strife, one of the most promising pointers for 2005 has been the long-overdue hatching of a collaborative enterprise, the so-called Television Advertising Bureau. For years, its non-arrival had been a symbol to advertisers of commercial TV’s inappropriate and outdated arrogance and complacency. The fact that ‘TAB’ (which will be called anything but, to avoid any comparison with RAB) has now, apparently, acquired an agreed funding formula, objectives and budget is a big step forward for commercial TV in general, but for the market leader ITV in particular.

Stuart Smith, EditorNews, page 7

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