Simon Shaps On Broadcasting: Take your partners: how new media can help the old survive
Monday 26 September 2005
The week ended in Gray's Inn Road, in an office without any views, on a street - as far I can tell - possibly unique in London for its lack of a Starbucks. That essential staging-post in my walk from Embankment Tube to the office - there's one at Embankment itself, one by County Hall and one in the Hayward Gallery - is absent from Gray's Inn Road. Worse still, the redevelopment of the South Bank Centre, anticipated for years, has finally added bookshops, restaurants and cafés galore to what was once something of a wasteland.
The reason for the change is that, during that week, I crossed TV's Rubicon. As the great Brandon Tartikoff, who ran NBC in the 1980s, once remarked, there are only two types of people in television: beggars and choosers. At the end of the week, I found myself in the heady world of the "choosers", the people who ultimately decide what appears on television. It was as if I had walked into a TV show about swapping pitching and producing for commissioning and scheduling, across four channels.
What do I make of this new life? Others have made the same transition and prospered. (Let's not talk about the failures.) The example I am clinging to is the case of the production head of Disney-owned Touchstone, who took over at the ABC network last year. Sitting in his in-tray when he arrived were Desperate Housewives and Lost, as well as Wife Swap.
ONE OF the unexpected pleasures of the past few weeks was producing Yahoo! chief executive Terry Semel's session at the RTS Cambridge Convention.
Like the new kid's arrival at school with the flashiest trainers, part of the ritual of this kind of event is the so-called "new media" companies spooking the "old media" companies into believing that their business models are dead or dying and that they ought to give up now and join them.
But Semel, a rare visitor to the UK, is clearly a more substantial new-media figure than is usually seen at these events. The 15th-most powerful man in the world (according to Vanity Fair's recent "New Establishment" list) arrived with a retinue of spin doctors and minders that would have made Alastair Campbell proud.
With a salary package said to exceed the programme budget of Five, a quarter-century's experience at Warner Bros and four years as chairman and chief executive of Yahoo!, he is the kind of guy you need to take really seriously. His message was to invite British producers to provide programmes that Yahoo! could promote and distribute on its network, which has close to 200 million "active users". In a sign of things to come, Yahoo! recently premiered Supernatural a week before the show appeared on US TV. Semel argued that companies such as ITV, and others, should be doing the same.
So will this invitation herald a new era of partnership? I think so. The truth is that we will all need to make alliances, sometimes with unlikely bedfellows, if we are to succeed in future.
A good recent example is Freesat, from ITV and the BBC. It makes commercial sense for ITV to be moving into this area, and it is entirely consistent with the BBC's broader objectives as we approach analogue switch-off. Online, it's the same principle. With companies like Yahoo!, Google and Microsoft becoming ever stronger, and wider-reaching communications and distribution businesses, we have got to build bridges. They have the technology, we've got channels and programmes.
Don't get me wrong - my job is about commissioning and scheduling across ITV channels, and of course television is our primary focus. I want to make ITV the natural home of Britain's best programme-makers and talent. But as our viewers increasingly text, surf and download as well as watch TV, I want them to be viewing ITV content and ITV programmes wherever they are. This is why the recently launched ITV mobile portal will feature some of the network's biggest brands: The X Factor, I'm a Celebrity... and Coronation Street.
The truth is that there's not a major broadcaster in the world, let alone the UK, not already making inroads into mobile, online and broadband technology. But, however good the technology, it's how you use it that matters. It's the quality of the partnerships that will separate the best from the rest.
Simon Shaps was made director of television at ITV this week. He was previously the chief executive of Granada
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