There are some intriguing parallels between Tony Blair and Richard
Eyre. Both took over institutions which many thought moribund, both
promised sweeping changes to a tight timetable - and both are now
discovering that events, and popular opinion, can throw even the
clearest thinkers off track.
Tobacco sponsorship has proved the undoing of Tony Blair’s
whiter-than-white appeal. Now Richard Eyre faces the first test of the
new-look ITV and the way it responds to those who pay the bills.
Significantly, the debate over ITV’s new sales policy comes at the same
time as new figures which show declining audience share for both the BBC
and ITV, and that ITV’s share of commercial viewing declined from 61.2%
last year to 55.6% this year.
Much more of this and ITV will no longer command a majority of
commercial TV viewers, and its power to negotiate with - much less
dictate to - its advertisers will weaken accordingly.
Eyre, of course, isn’t directly responsible for ITV sales, so it would
be unfair to lay the latest dispute at his door.
It’s a matter of sales practices rather than brand strategy. But there’s
no getting away from the fact that his efforts to build a strong brand
for ITV aren’t helped when advertisers are talking seriously, as our
front page story reveals they are, of Office of Fair Trading referrals
and withdrawal of business.
For both Blair and Eyre, the honeymoon is very definitely over, and it’s
time to accept that all the good intentions in the world don’t matter
when a brand falls out with its customer base.
What matters in the long term is what is delivered, not what is
Still, Richard Eyre is only a third of the way through his famous 100
days and it may yet be that the present fuss will die down in time for a
stunning announcement just after Christmas. Hiring a real-life FMCG
client as marketing director may yet result in fresh thinking about ITV
and its place in the market.
We certainly hope so. Richard Eyre and his new team are the best news to
come out of ITV for many years. Ultimately, it is in no one’s interests
for a network which still commands by far the biggest commercial
audience in the country to continue on its previous path of gentle
For everyone’s sakes, the present dispute needs to be settled quickly.