Analysis: Is extra time the answer?

Demands by advertisers for extra airtime won’t necessarily relieve all the pressures of TV inflation. Anna Griffiths writes.

Demands by advertisers for extra airtime won’t necessarily relieve

all the pressures of TV inflation. Anna Griffiths writes.



Yet again there are calls for commercial TV to extend its advertising

airtime. Advertisers have pressed and pestered for years for more

minutage.



They argue the benefits would be immense and immediate. Pressure would

be eased on the demand for airtime, inflation would fall, and the

constant barracking of ITV would abate. Marketing directors wouldn’t

have to face the embarrassment of telling their bosses why they keep

spending more cash on TV and reaching fewer viewers.



The difference this time is where the call is coming from, and how it

has been received.



At the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers conference last week,

Paul Polman, Procter & Gamble’s vice-president and general manager, took

up the cudgel.



P&G is the world’s biggest advertiser with an annual spend of over

pounds 3bn worldwide. When it speaks, media owners listen.



Armed with an array of facts and figures, Polman put television’s

performance for advertisers in the firing line. He scored some direct

hits: ’Over the past five years, TV advertising costs have risen by up

to 47%. This is massively ahead of normal retail price inflation which

was at 14% over the same period. Clearly this is unacceptable to

business.’



He said P&G had carried out a review of costs back to 1980 which showed

a constant upward pressure on advertising costs.



Commercial TV companies should, he said, up the maximum advertising

airtime from seven minutes an hour to nine, while maintaining a minimum

daily average of seven. This would ’give TV stations and advertisers

more freedom to balance demand and supply’.



Polman also reserved a section of his speech for the BBC’s ’artificially

protected market position’. He called for ads on the BBC, even if it

were for only five minutes per day of peak airtime. This could wipe

pounds 10 off the licence fee.



The difference in the latest call is the reaction of the ITV sales

houses.



Traditionally they have been cold toward approaches for more minutage;

now they are willing to look at the issue.



TSMS and Laser Sales have said they will reconsider extra minutage if

all the ITV network companies agree. Carlton too has said it would be

prepared to look at its minutage arrangements - outside of peak.



Jerry Hill, chief executive at TSMS, says: ’We’ve got to listen to the

problem and respond to it as a courtesy to our clients, and do this

within a reasonable period of time.’



Bob Wootton, ISBA’s director of media services, is putting together a

policy document for the Independent Television Commission about

increasing minutage over a two-year period, but he says that while he

has the support of advertisers, he is frustrated by the lack of support

from media agencies.



If the idea of extra minutage is to bring down TV inflation, why are

media buyers so unenthusiastic? Just because it is on the client’s ’wish

list’ doesn’t mean it’s the right thing for the industry to do.



Opponents in the extra minutage debate, say it is a short-term fix that

could eventually create more problems if the extra ads persuade more

viewers to reach for the remote. Better programming and bigger audiences

is the answer, not allowing more ads - because fewer people may watch

Better programming means more viewers, which would reduce station

average prices.



Paul Taylor, joint media director of BMP DDB, says: ’I’d rather see

strong programmes and audiences with sensible levels of commercial

minutage.’



Media buyers are conscious of how easy it is to turn viewers off. Chris

Boothby, head of TV buying at BBJ MediaServices, points out: ’If you go

into peak there are issues of clutter. There are ITV promotions at the

start of virtually every peak ad break - how does the viewer

differentiate between a channel promotion and an advert?’



There is concern that if ITV does agree to extra minutage it would

charge a 10% premium to advertise in the first slot of any ad break,

negating the idea of extra minutage.



The timing of the debate about minutage seems out of kilter with the

imminent launch of Channel 5, as Taylor points out. ’Once Channel 5 is

up and running, and we see what the product is, it will take some heat

out of TV inflation.’



But the launch of Channel 5 will not end calls for more ad minutage.



Unless it erodes the BBC’s share of viewing, it may add to them.



The ITC is willing to discuss minutage, but would only act if it were in

viewers’ interests. Why would a viewer benefit from more ads if it cut

into programming?



Some in media believe that those advertisers calling for more minutage

should consider whether it will really benefit them while viewers can

still switch channels to an ad-free BBC.



YOUR TIME IS UP



- Advertising on terrestrial TV in any one day is limited to an average

seven minutes per hour.



- In peak-time, this is increased to an average of 7.5 minutes per hour.

There can be no more than 12 minutes in any clock hour. The ITC states

peak-time is 6pm to 11pm and 7am to 9am.



- In July 1996, the ITC allowed ITV, Channels 4 and 5 the ability to

aggregate their spot advertising allowance without asking for permission

between 12am and 6am for long ads.



- TV inflation in 1995/96 was 8% and is now running at 10%.



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