ET may not be able to phone home after next year

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The Independent Online

As if BT did not have enough worries - with soaring debts, a collapsing share price and pressure on its chairman to quit - it is now faced with a dilemma over its £120m advertising campaign featuring ET, the extra-terrestrial.

As if BT did not have enough worries - with soaring debts, a collapsing share price and pressure on its chairman to quit - it is now faced with a dilemma over its £120m advertising campaign featuring ET, the extra-terrestrial.

Its deal with Steven Spielberg to use the alien runs out next year. However, Spielberg is releasing a reworked version of the original 1982 film in 2002, no doubt sparking renewed interest in the cult character.

As befits one of the most astute directors in Hollywood, Spielberg has offered BT a new deal for ET. The trouble is, the cost of extending the current deal for up to three year is rumoured to be a cool £10m. And that's not the only problem. After making 40 adverts featuring ET, advertising agency Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO is running out of ideas and there is pressure for ET to go the way of Beattie and Busby into the advertising archives.

"The latest BT adverts are pretty lame," said one industry rival, and even a senior member of BT's marketing campaign has described the campaign as a "mixed bag".

The prospect of keeping the ads going for another two years is causing creative executives at Abbott to break out in a sweat. But there is also a fear that someone else will pick up ET in 2002 and make the killing BT should have made. BT has been given until the end of the year to make a decision. "Nothing stands still and if we weren't addressing this issue we'd deserve to be shot," said a senior BT source.

Admittedly, BT has other things on its mind. On Thursday the troubled telecoms giant is expected to announce a £50bn restructuring which will split the fast-growing internet and mobile businesses from the lumbering core that brings us our phones.

The move may not be enough to save the job of Sir Iain Valance, BT's long-serving chairman, who has been blamed for the group's poor performance. Finance director Robert Brace, whose departure was predicted in The Independent on Sunday in August, resigned last month.

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