Raymond Snoddy on Broadcasting

Television retains its crown in the court of the digital revolution
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The Independent Online

Once upon a time, media researchers were strictly backroom operatives. No longer. The current chaos in the media, and demands for greater accountability by advertisers, means that suddenly everyone wants to get their hands on trusted research.

Thinkbox, the television marketing group, has produced good work on the effectiveness of sponsorship; the Newspaper Society, which represents regional titles, has been hot on the importance of local life; and the Newspaper Marketing Agency has produced compelling case studies to prove how well properly targeted national newspaper advertising works. The Holy Grail remains something that brings all such good work together and tells us what the consumer is up to in terms of both media consumption – and other activity almost minute by minute through the day.

The Institute of Practitioners in Advertising has just given birth to its second massive study of the behaviour of 5,400 adults for its TouchPoints survey and it goes a long way to meet the need for integrated research. It provides good news for broadcasters – and television in particular.

The simple fact is that television remains the dominant medium, despite all the communication wonders that technology offers, and viewing has actually increased since the first survey in 2005. Consumers are smart enough to use almost everything on offer, depending on age, but during the week an average adult still spends 24 per cent of their time awake watching television. This compares with 13 per cent listening to radio, 7 per cent of time using the internet with 3 per cent spent reading a newspaper or magazine.

But 76 per cent of all adults believe there are now too many reality shows on television while a similar proportion of those with personal video recorders such as Sky+ say the device has completely changed the way they watch television.

Although internet penetration has now reached 73 per cent, only a relatively modest 18 per cent of adults have watched television online – 29 per cent of those under 25 – with 21 per cent of internet users accessing a radio station website in the four weeks of the survey.

Interestingly adults say they still prefer to read their national newspapers in print with only 9 per cent saying they prefer to get them online – something that should give pause for thought for newspaper publishers busy turning their newsrooms into television studios.

Among the vast quantity of data there are some warnings for commercial broadcasters. Eighty-two per cent of adults think some adverts appear so many times that they becoming irritating and 41 per cent of unskilled workers say the ads are more interesting than the programmes.

The BBC comes up smelling of roses. BBC1 is the UK's favourite television channel with 56 per cent naming it as one of their favourites and 41 per cent of adults agree with the statement that they know a programme will be good if it's on the BBC.

The TouchPoints2 study has to be used alongside the established official ratings and readership measures but as media share prices plunge and advertising revenues melt, it's a useful corrective to some of the hysteria currently out there.

Are ITV's shares ripe for the picking?

Current events are almost enough to make you feel sorry for Michael Grade, executive chairman of ITV. Almost. The harder he works and the better he performs, the faster the share price falls.

Last week the shares hit an unbelievable new record low of 37.7p – partly because of the profit warning from Sly Bailey, chief executive of Trinity Mirror.

There's an irony somewhere in the fact that Grade, the former Daily Mirror sports columnist, should still be getting grief from his old paper after all these years.

The ITV share price nadir – if it is – compares with a year high of 86.8p and a peak of more than 140p after the former chief executive Charles Allen floated the newly merged company.

It's really tough on Grade, who wants to make a serious amount of money – despite fat pay cheques over the years, he has always been the poorest Grade. Unfortunately he has been caught a few times with share options seriously submerged. Poor Grade even gets criticised for perfectly sensible decisions – such as deciding not to match the BBC's coverage of the Spain versus Germany Euro 2008 final. The Beeb's ratings peaked at an unexpectedly high 12.9 million. But history shows that when the BBC and ITV go head-to-head on sports events the BBC always wins easily. Instead ITV attracted 5 million footy-phobes with a repeat.

But does the collapsing ITV share price matter, apart from seriously annoying institutional shareholders? Probably not. Grade represents their best chance of getting some money back so they won't move against him and the venture capitalists have lost much of their borrowing power. Only a really rich, privately owned corporation could take out ITV and there's no queue.

There is one thought for the truly adventurous. Has the time to start buying ITV shares arrived? At least one perfectly sensible analyst has been speculating privately that it's not impossible that ITV could be at 150p in two or three years. But that's strictly one for the bravehearts.

Patronising intellectual elite need not distract Johnson

Something extraordinary happened last week. The Channel 4 chairman Luke Johnson made a speech on the media which didn't involve asking for the usual subsidy for his channel.

Instead the red-in-the-tooth "unrepentant" capitalist with the noticeable public service streak used his platform at the annual lunch of the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers to join their cause in denouncing those forever trying to tighten the limits on advertising.

An "intellectual elite", often on the flimsiest of evidence, were trying to impose new rules on advertising food, alcohol and gambling – the very areas where Johnson has made most of his sizeable fortune. Such people, he stormed, felt "a compulsion to patronise certain elements of society and try to micromanage their lives in every aspect".

Luckily for the sake of his restaurant and greyhound track interests, not to mention Channel 4 advertising, people "would continue to indulge in these sorts of vices whatever the do-gooders say". Well said Mr Johnson: the battle against political correctness can never sleep. He was, however, on less certain ground when he went on to denounce the "cynical and negative" approach taken by the media in feeding frenzies over questionable news topics, including his own organisation.

He vowed that he himself preferred "a balanced outlook with a dose of optimism". Leaving aside issues such as Big Brother, Johnson should apply his wisdom and taste for optimism to his own channel's financial affairs in future.

After all, as he pointed out, television has hardly declined as an advertising medium – reaching 70 per cent of the population every single day, exactly the same as it did when Channel 4 was launched 25 years ago.

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