Simon Shaps On Broadcasting

The ITV rebrand isn't just about a new logo. And the letters will stay
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The Independent Online

Two weeks ago, Greg Dyke wrote here that the great advantage of being a columnist was that there was no one to hold you to account even if you are spectacularly wrong - that he could make his predictions for 2006 "with impunity".

He clearly wrote that before he knew I had the honour of taking up the cudgel on his behalf this week. The great advantage of being a guest columnist in his absence is that I get a chance to hold him to account on some of those points where he is spectacularly wrong.

Let's start with his assertion that ITV was the biggest loser in 2005. Now, I think Greg will accept that's not exactly a prediction. As the ex-director general of the corporation, he should have spotted the fact that it was BBC1's audience, not ITV1's, that suffered more than any other last year. ITV1 remains the UK's most popular channel in peak by some margin, with a four-share-point lead over BBC1 and a 20-share-point lead over Channel 4. None of the terrestrial channels improved on their all-time share last year - not even Channel 4.

While we're at it, let's take a closer look at Channel 4's "spectacular" 2005. They may have had a strong summer thanks to the Ashes cricket and Big Brother, but the autumn was disappointing when the channel finally got round to some original commissioning, with Space Cadets, The F Word, Make Me a Million, Meet the Magoons and Rock School all underperforming.

But Greg didn't get where he is today by getting it all wrong, and the other great advantage of sitting in his seat is to be able to agree with him on at least something. Let's take the ITV rebrand, for one.

In last week's column, Greg reported that we were about to unveil details of our new on-screen look, which will be seen from today across our family of channels. "The truth is that rebranding a channel is not easy," he said. And was he ever right.

In ITV's case it was a year-long process, during which we consulted 6,000 viewers and 600 employees, embarked on a major segmentation study to better understand the different attitudes and viewing habits of our various audiences, and worked long and hard to reach an end point that did justice to this undertaking. We didn't go into this because we fancied some different-coloured logos, which used to be what passed for marketing in the era when people like Greg ran ITV. This is about putting our money where our mouth is when we say we want a deeper understanding of how to reach our viewers and advertisers.

So is Greg right or wrong when he says we should ditch the letters ITV altogether? The research carried out during this rebranding process was unambiguous. Not surprisingly, after 50 years on air, the ITV brand is incredibly powerful - let's not forget that 44 million people watch ITV at some point every week - and even light viewers feel goodwill and warmth towards the brand. We also discovered that the success story of our digital channels ITV2, 3 and 4 has a positive impact on viewers' perception of ITV1.

So, although this exercise represents an important step in the modernisation of our brand, we won't be throwing the baby out with the bathwater to become plain old Button 3 just yet.

I'd better finish with something I think Greg got right. He wrote that ITV's ratings decline would stop altogether in 2006 and Channel 4 faces an uphill struggle. Bold predictions indeed. Thanks, Greg.

The best of the naysayers

I suppose you end up judging network controllers as much by how they say "no" as how they say "yes".

Since they spend a disproportionate amount of their time rejecting ideas - everything from incoherent rambling prose written in green ink to the passion projects of star producers - it's not surprising that handling this delicate process is often seen as a major test of their mettle.

I have worked with all three of ITV's network directors over the past 13 years. The first, Marcus Plantin (top), used to imply "no" by a startled, slightly appalled look on his face. He was not prone to extended critical analysis, but left the hapless producer in no doubt about his views.

David Liddiment (middle), who followed him, could be as passionate in his rejection as in his acceptance. Curiously, a 30- second pause in the middle of one of his sentences didn't necessarily imply he hated the idea - although more often than not he was just searching for the mot juste to kill it stone dead.

Nigel Pickard (bottom), the outgoing ITV network director, in this respect, as in most things, is utterly decent and charming. He could make you feel on top of the world, even if he privately thought the idea barking. History will judge his three-year reign much more favourably than some of his midsummer critics might suggest. As he returns to programme production, one of his legacies will undoubtedly be as the dispenser of some incredibly high-quality "nos" as well as some judicious "yeses".

Simon Shaps is director of television at ITV

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