Agencies Get Tough With ITV; BARB Browbeats Channel Owners

17 September 2002

ITV told to get real about ad premiums

Major advertisers have joined with media-buying agencies to serve notice in advance of the autumn buying round that the ITV network’s legendary ‘licence to print money’ is about to expire.

ITV’s share of UK television ad revenues is already on the wane. Declining from 59% in 2000, it slipped to 57% in 2001 and is predicted to sink to 54.5% this year. And as cable and digital broadcasters continue to make inroads into ITV’s audience share, its revenues are projected to fall below the psychologically important 50% mark by 2004.

The balance of power is changing fast with clients and buyers alike telling ITV to get real and dump the elephantine premiums it traditionally loads onto timesales.

Mark Jarvis, broadcast director at Carat, the UK’s largest media buying shop, threw down the gauntlet: “I would fundamentally challenge ITV’s current pricing model. I’d like to see fixed pricing introduced so that advertisers know what they’re getting – impact performance and viewers should be absolutely implicit in their trading methodology.”

This view was endorsed by Stuart Cox, head of media at Nestlé: “ITV needs to evolve and change and become more flexible or selective in terms of how they sell their airtime, which is different to where we were eighteen months ago.”

Warned Marc Bignall, head of broadcast at OMD UK: “There are new options for advertisers and although ITV is still market leader, there is an increasing will among advertisers not to use ITV.”

But Martin Bowley, chief executive of Carlton Media Sales was unmoved: “I’m not aware that any of the agencies have these concerns. I’m happy with the way we trade,” he said in archetypal ITV seigneurial mode.

BARB in dispute with multichannel owners

Meantime, Britain's turbulent TV waters continue to seethe around BARB (Broadcasters' Audience Research Board) where a major split is looming between the beleaguered ratings compiler and a number of multichannel TV brands.

According to an ‘industry source’, a number of multichannel broadcasters have yet to renew their BARB contract on grounds that (a) they have no faith in current BARB data and (b) the contract contains an illegality. “They haven’t signed the new contracts, as legal advice says that they are illegal and that nobody should sign,” squeaked the mole.

Among the alleged withheld signatories are Studio Networks, Flextech, Turner Broadcasting and Universal – all of which are said to have received a letter from BARB finance director Nigel McLachlan stating that their data supply will be terminated within two weeks unless they sign new contracts.

But although BARB denies the existence of such a letter, the obliging mole leaked a copy to UK advertising publication Media Week. It read: “We hereby give notice that you are in breach of our agreement and require that this breach be remedied within fourteen working days. Should you fail to comply with this request, BARB will terminate the agreement and withdraw the supply of data with immediate effect.”

Demonstrating their disillusion with BARB’s current data, the recalcitrant multi-channel stations have commissioned an independent audience survey from Continental Research. It is hoped this will redress complaints that multi-channel properties are being under-reported by BARB by between ten to one hundred million heads monthly.

Data sourced from: Media Week (UK); additional content by WARC staff