ITV and Five Bosses in 'Nanny State' Protest

01 March 2007

LONDON: Thinkbox Experience 2007, the grandiloquently titled TV talkfest held Tuesday at London's Roundhouse, saw UK TV chiefs emphasise the importance of the commercial television industry working together with advertisers - a revolutionary idea that might also have ocurred to those who founded British commercial TV nearly fifty-two years ago.

The event, organised by Thinkbox, the marketing body for the UK's main commercial broadcasters - Channel 4, Five, GMTV, ITV, Sky Media, Turner Broadcasting and Viacom Brand Solutions, enjoyed its liveliest moments at the closing question and answer session.

One questioner asked the Q&A triptych - new ITV chairman Michael Grade, Channel 4 ceo Andy Duncan and Jane Lighting, ceo at Five - what they would wish for if they could change one thing in the TV industry.

This clearly touched a raw nerve in the usually laid-back ITV honcho. Reminiscent of the scene every horror-aficionado fondly recalls from the first of the Alien movie franchise, the dreaded Nanny State Monster burst out of Grade's manly frame.

"There is a real common cause on the panel," he said. "We must convince government that the answer to all society's problems is not in advertising restrictions ... it is insidious nanny state pressure.

In what MediaGuardian described as a tirade, Grade continued: "It is not going to change people's lives ... that is too simplistic. Either ban it altogether, ban the product, or just get out of our lives."

Lighting, doubtless equally miffed at the prospect of losing millions in ad revenues, was by comparison tranquillity personified: "It concerns me," she said, "that at a time when we are pushing boundaries forward online, there is developing more of a nanny state. Have you seen the kids advertising restrictions ... what next, cars?"

Another questioner tactfully changed the subject, asking if scheduling and channels were dying in the age of download content? Andy Duncan sportingly picked up this hot potato.

"It is far from a dying art, it is incredibly important, if anything it is growing over time," he said. "There were in the past four or five channels, now there are hundreds." He argued that this created a greater need to cross-schedule and optimise programming.

"While video on demand and the internet was growing alongside traditional TV," Duncan continued, "scheduling will remain the most important way people watch TV for some time."

Grade, now in calmer mode, offered his view on scheduling - of which he is an acknowledged virtuoso. He opined that TV scheduling was once the "be all and end all" but now it is just the beginning.

"It is the shop window like Selfridges in the high street, it attracts people in. It is crucial but is only a starting point." ITV would not be spending "£1 million an hour on making drama shows" in the traditional way that saw programmes get a couple of airplays and then be archived.

Grade rounded off with the traditional call to arms. "We have a hell of a good story to sell and don't do it. The message I want to get across is if you sell airtime as a commodity you end up with programmes that are a commodity. Got to get through that cycle and really emphasize the premium value of TV."

Data sourced from; additional content by WARC staff