MEDIA: Making untimely TV predictions is a costly business

It would be a bit like giving soldiers posthumous awards for bravery but Bruce Gyngell, the former chief executive of TV-am, really should get a medal for being right.

It would be a bit like giving soldiers posthumous awards for

bravery but Bruce Gyngell, the former chief executive of TV-am, really

should get a medal for being right.



In the real world, of course, there are no awards for being proved

right, eventually. Liz Forgan was right to be in a minority of one

opposing the move of BBC Radio to White City, and all the associated

bi-media nonsense.



Her reward was a settlement that included an undertaking not to disclose

her reasons for resigning for five years.



But rarely has anybody been so completely vindicated as Bruce Gyngell

over his apparently bizarre, no-hope bid to retain his breakfast

franchise.



Then, as managing director of Yorkshire Television, Gyngell was also in

a minority of one in ITV as he argued that it would be impossible to

modernise the schedule without first moving News at Ten.



It’s not bad to be vindicated twice in less than a week.



After the ITC slashed GMTV’s licence fees by 60% from January 1, to much

less than Bruce bid in 1991, he was not in a triumphant mood. He merely

allowed himself to enjoy ’the small pleasure’ of being proved right.



Those marketers who were still in school in 1991 need to be told just

how intense the drama was at the time. The atmosphere was electric at a

TV-am awards ceremony the day after the licence awards, when Gyngell

read out a letter from Mrs Thatcher saying she had never intended such

an outcome. It was probably the closest she has ever come to saying

sorry.



What is now clear is that Gyngell paid the price for his savvy and

knowledge of the TV market. Something like 34% of TV-am’s revenue came

at the time from children’s advertising. Bruce says he predicted

correctly that the arrival of cartoon channels on cable and satellite

would siphon off most of that money and therefore bid pounds 14.13m to

the pounds 34.61m of GMTV. Such predictive power cost him dear and he is

right to question the competence of the ITC’s financial judgement.



There was another small but interesting admission in the ITC

announcements.



The doubling of Ulster’s tab from pounds 1m a year to pounds 2m, a

penalty on success will cause an eyebrow to be raised at TVNi whose bid

of pounds 3.1m was ruled out as unsustainable. There is now little doubt

that the judgement was wrong.



The revaluations of 11 of the licences exposes the flaws in the 1990

Broadcasting Act and goes a long way to smoothing out the many anomalies

it created.



But perhaps the biggest anomaly has yet to become obvious. All of the

existing ITV licence holders have effectively got franchises for life as

long as they accept the ITC’s evaluations and don’t fake too many

documentaries.



The theory, of course, was that with the coming of digital, ITV

franchises would eventually not be worth much and that would be

reflected in the licence value. What if that theory is flawed and there

will always be a place for free-to-air commercial channels. Then no new

players will ever again be able to challenge for an ITV licence - not

even Bruce Gyngell.



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