Magazine article Marketing

Media Analysis: Talking Inside the Thinkbox

Magazine article Marketing

Media Analysis: Talking Inside the Thinkbox

Article excerpt

The inaugural Thinkbox roundtable session saw clients and broadcasters go head-to-head, writes Colin Grimshaw.

February's launch of Thinkbox, broadcasters' long-awaited TV industry marketing initiative, was greeted with scepticism by advertisers. Big on PR but short on substance appeared to be the popular verdict.

Yet there were some proposals that were broadly welcomed. One was to hold monthly roundtable discussions between TV sales directors and advertisers to debate issues of client concern.

The litany of client grievances with TV advertising - from the archaic trading system to the dearth of effectiveness research and the threat posed by PVRs - signalled the portents for a colourful and possibly stormy debate. Last week's inaugural roundtable session, pitting five TV advertisers against five broadcasters, did not disappoint.

Nestle Rowntree's Neil Ducray kicked off the proceedings with an assault on the current trading system, contrasting the UK model with his experience in the Far East. UK TV trading, he said, was characterised by inflexibility and high costs, and contravened the core principles of economics. He evidenced the fact that, although TV ratings were poor in the first quarter of 2005, advertisers had nonetheless been 'hit with astronomical price increases'.

Ducray added that he was forced to spend on TV because retailers expect it, but warned that he had a staff of 50 assiduously seeking out alternatives.

A specific problem for FMCG advertisers, he said, was inflexibility in the booking of ad spots. 'We have to book eight weeks out and there is hell to pay if we try to change the schedule, even moving different brands into booked spots,' said Ducray. 'Retailers control our destiny. If we miss their listing schedules because we can not get an ad on air, then we could be off the shelves for three months.'

Trading practices

Ducray had evidently stirred up a hornet's nest of resentment over broadcasters' inflexibility. Kieran Breen, from 20th Century Fox, claimed that in an era of fragmenting TV, with ever-increasing choice, existing deadlines were archaic and should be scrapped. Kimberly-Clarks' Oliver Cleaver went further, criticising the method of trading through annual agency share deals, which commits advertisers to placing proportions of their advertising on each channel.

'What we want is the same sort of supplier-partner relationships that we have with other suppliers,' he added. 'That means being able to move off ITV for a while to move onto Channel 4.'

It was inexplicable, Cleaver argued, that a pounds 3.4bn industry was largely traded on golf courses, and using a mechanism that was designed for the business conditions of the early 80s when there were only three channels.

'We need a simplified system. It should be like buying futures. Then we could take out half the staff in media trading and put the resource into proper communications planning,' he said.

Research needs

As clients warmed to the theme of arcane trading practices, the debate was brought to a halt by ITV's Graham Duff, who revealed that Thinkbox was legally prevented from discussing trading, because of 'cartel issues'. He explained that the complex method of TV trading in the UK had arisen because the method of measuring TV audiences, through BARB, was equally complex. …

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