‘Together we’re stronger’ is the message as ITV takes an optimistic tone at the 2009 upfronts

Britannia high
as optimistic as it gets: ITV's Britannia High

'together we're stronger' was the message to media agencies at last week's 2009 upfronts presentation on the Southbank.  and strong is indeed what ITV is going to need us all to be.  with Tesco now openly talking about Q1 2009 being an 'Ice Age' in consumer spending, all media owners are bracing themselves for tough conditions ahead.  the message from ITV is simple: TV is the most effective channel for brand building and behaviour change, commercial TV is more popular than ever, and in real terms the cost of airtime is the same as it was in 1992.  that and a billion pound commitment to the programming budget to boot.

it's all compelling stuff and ITV has plenty to be pleased about; ITV2 and ITV3 are the top two MC channels, over 80% of the schedule is UK original programming, and (with Kangaroo still in the pipeline) itv.com is starting to make some strides in online for the corporation – we were informed that three alternate endings to the Liam storyline generated 650k views in one weekend.  who knew.

upcoming programming looks good (you can view the reel here) and includes the remake of The Prisoner with Sir Ian McKellen, and Demons (an early Saturday night partner for Primeval).  ITV have also recently locked down a deal which will see Sage ad-fund the return of the Krypton Factor, with Julian Smith, Planning Account Director at ITV, commenting that it marked "the biggest ad-funded and multi-platform programme ITV has
commissioned and the first one to appear in ITV1’s prime time schedule"
.

Mediation asked Peter Fincham – ITV's new Director of Television – why it had taken so long for an AFP to make it into primetime.  he noted that commissioning lead times are often very different to those of brands, and that keeping an audience and a brand happy aren't always the same thing.  but the main barrier seemed to be cost – with a Q&A panel adding that brands often baulk at the price tag that comes with making your own show.  this is probably fair and true, and a new approach that starts with what the schedule needs rather than what advertisers dictate is a good starting point – no brand wants to invest in a programme that is simply not going to rate no matter how on-brand it is.

one of the stars of the show was Sunday nights new effort Britannia High (above) which despite buying pretty much every 6 sheet on the underground was severely trounced in the ratings by Antiques roadshow on BBC1 (its viewers may be – according to Fincham – a "coach load of old people", but that there quite a big coach).

part of the problem with Britannia High has been the marketing.  not sure that a 6 sheet campaign really cuts it – especially with a show like this.  my guess is a lot of people just didn't know what to expect, that's not a position a new peak-time show on ITV wants to be in.  it would have been so easy to run some kind of audition-concept format in the run up to TX that would have also explained what to expect.  suspect that it will have momentum but it's an opportunity missed for the channel.  you only get to launch once.

one other gripe is that ITV do rather want to seem to have their cake and eat it…  they're very happy to deliver mass audiences (and so they should), but their targeting ability was demonstrated at a channel level (see below), with ITV1 equaling optimism and ITV2 fun and younger etc.  solid positionings but in a multichannel world you can get more precise targeting elsewhere for less.

ITV_channelsstronger targeting delivering effectiveness (source: ITV upfronts presentation)

the case study for targeting was Harveys' sponsorship of Coronation Street which has generated 3.5m red button interactions with the brand.  a great result but hardly the best example of a targeted proposition.

all in all though a confident performance from the corporation.  here's to the optimism holding as the chill of an economic ice-age starts to bite.

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