That was the year that was

It was some year: a journalistic intruder at the palace, a compact newspaper and its copycat - and did someone mention Lord Hutton? Eight key media players offer their personal reflections on 2003
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Simon Kelner

Simon Kelner
Editor-in-chief, The Independent

It's not every day that Rupert Murdoch pays one of his rivals a compliment. But when, in November, The Times followed our lead in producing a tabloid-sized version to be sold alongside the traditional broadsheet, and Mr Murdoch said that he was grateful to The Independent for blazing this particular trail, it was clear that these were not ordinary days in the quality newspaper market.

On 30 September this year, the dynamics of the broadsheet sector were changed - possibly for ever - when we launched the compact version of The Independent. With an initial print run of 75,000, the twin-format paper made its debut in the London area and quickly became a success with readers and advertisers. It has since been extended to the North-west of England and the South, and, early in the new year, it will expand to other areas.

The idea had been formulated over a relatively long period of time. Like all newspapers, we engage in an ongoing process of market research, and one consistent theme had emerged in conversations with current, lapsed and potential readers. Many said that they felt comfortable with the qualities and values of a broadsheet newspaper, but found the tabloid size more convenient and reader-friendly. This was particularly true for those who commuted to work on crowded Tubes and trains.

However, there was also a body of opinion among regular readers that the negative cultural associations of a tabloid-sized paper - Britain is the only country in Europe where the word "tabloid" is used pejoratively - were a major inhibiting factor. It was marrying these contradictory thoughts to the widespread practice in other consumer goods - from toothpaste to mints - of offering the same product in a range of shapes and sizes that we came up with the world's first newspaper to be available in two sizes.

In the first seven weeks of the compact edition, The Independent's share of the quality newspaper market reversed seven years of decline. In our first month in London, where the compact was initially launched, The Independent's Monday to Friday sale was up by a remarkable 54 per cent. Audited circulation figures show The Independent now selling 240,000 copies a day, up 8.5 per cent year on year; over the same period, all other quality papers were significantly down.

The Times has now brought out its own compact, and when the December circulation figures are released, it will be interesting to see what effect the compact has had on halting the newspaper's falling circulation.

And what of the others? The Daily Telegraph, which has a different set of problems following Conrad Black's troubles, has said it already has a prototype tabloid. The Guardian, it is rumoured, has had a number of senior executives closeted away, formulating plans for its own response. Only one thing is certain: after years when the quality market has been characterised by stasis, 2004 promises to be a year of dynamic change and innovation. It would take a brave person to predict where we will all be in a year's time. And, in keeping with the tradition of The Independent, we are pleased to have let loose the forces of radicalism.

Lindsay Nicholson
Editor-in-chief Good Housekeeping

Shoulder bags, clutch bags, CDs, paperback novels, evening scarves, flip-flops, T-shirts, diaries, sarongs, candles, Christmas decorations even a kitchen whisk. If anything has defined glossy magazines in the past year it's been the proliferation of free stuff attached to them - politely known as gifts-with-purchase. In the cold light of day much of it is of debatable value but it does seem to send magazine buyers into paroxysms of delight during those crucial few seconds at the check-out. Publishers hate having to do it - the cost of around 32p for a CD may not sound much but multiply that for a print run of several hundred thousand and it's significant. But it drives sales, which in turn attracts advertisers so no one's going to be the first to blink.

At Good Housekeeping we rise above it by only having supplements and booklets which are an extension of the magazine content - rather than a stick-on gimmicks. But then we've been around for 81 years so we don't have to shout so loudly to get noticed. And with, at the last count, 3,800 news-stand titles out there - twice as many as 10 years ago - you do have to stand out.

So all the packaging - the poly bags and backing cards - is getting bigger (remember when you used to be able to flick through a magazine before buying?) while contrarily the magazines themselves are actually getting smaller.

Before the launch two years ago of Condé Nast's Glamour, only the distinctly unhip (though widely read) Reader's Digest was mini-sized. Standard A4 was considered the bare minimum acceptable for showcasing the fabulous images created by top name fashion photographers and advertisers.

Indeed bigger was even better with the more upscale titles heading perilously towards A3. Now as with mobile phones and mini-skirts, less is More. And Bliss. And Sugar. And CosmoGirl. And Jack.

Celebrity has been the other big watchword for 2003. The continued success of Heat has uncovered a seemingly insatiable desire for seeing the famous, and not-so-famous, in frankly rather ordinary settings. Remember the media storm unleashed by the so-called Lippygate pictures of Cherie Blair in Marie-Claire's 15th anniversary issue. The story effectively being that the Prime Minister's wife has a bedroom and sometimes sits in it to have her make-up done before being photographed...It's good to know that magazines haven't lost their power to shock!

Actually, I feel quietly proud of one of the biggest shocks delivered by magazines this year - the tried and tested report on sex aids in the September issue of Good Housekeeping. In-depth investigation also revealed the little-known fact that vibrators have been around for over 100 years and were actually electrified a decade before vacuum cleaners.

I received only two letters of complaint in a postbag containing hundreds of letters of praise for our frankness and honesty. Not so surprising, since a survey we'd carried out earlier in the year revealed that more than half of our readers had used a vibrator. But what of the others? Maybe they were too embarrassed to buy one.

Now that gives me a really original idea for gift-with-purchase!

Jenny Abramsky
Director, BBC radio and music

This was the year that digital radio took off. In January only 70,000 DAB sets had been sold; by December, around 350,000 sets have been sold and shops are unable to meet demand. All the high-street shops now know the difference between a digital radio and a radio with a digital clock. Even the big supermarkets have been selling them this Christmas and the big manufacturers like Roberts and Sony are at last moving into the market.

But it's not just digital radio sets that are making the difference. The radio industry has been astonished at the way people are listening to radio via their television sets. The success in particular of Freeview and the decision of the BBC and Emap to make our radio stations available on the platform has generated new listening and ensured our new digital services are available to millions, not just thousands. This year millions have accessed radio through the internet so the world of radio is changing and all of us who work in it must recognise and adapt to those changes.

This time last year we had just launched our fifth digital radio station in 12 months - BBC7 . A year on we have had our first audience figures. It's a positive beginning in a long game. Children have found BBC7 and are appreciating the joys of speech radio. The Asian network is reaching one in five Asians in the UK. And 1Xtra and 6 Music have broadcast live sessions with artists who would never have the opportunity to be heard in the analogue world. They are doing it week in, week out.

The runaway success of the year for BBC Radio is "audio on demand". We launched the Radio Player in May last year and in its first month 1 million requests were received. In November 2003 there were 5.5 million. It is one of the most innovative things the BBC has done - finding a new audience for radio and handing power to that audience to create their own BBC channel. The 135,000 requests for the dramatisation of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials showed that our audiences have seized the opportunity to listen to what they want when they want.

For our audiences it is the programmes we are delivering that really count. Jeremy Vine stepped into Radio 2 as though it were the place he was always meant to be. December sees the end of Jim Moir's remarkable tenure as controller of Radio 2.

Radio 1 too is set for change and renewal with a new breakfast show starting next month. Despite the intense competition, it still manages to reach half the nation's 15-24 year-olds with its mix of new and specialist music and speech programmes.

Radio 3 changed its schedule and enjoyed record summer audiences. The Last Night of the Proms at last came from all parts of the United Kingdom.

Radio 4, the Sony Radio Academy station of the year, has gone from strength to strength.

And if you want one brilliant moment for the year go to the Five Live website and hear Rob Andrew's scream over Ian Robertson's commentary as Jonny Wilkinson's kick went over. Wonderful!

Piers Morgan
Editor of the Daily Mirror

The Comedy Awards the other week failed to acknowledge what was surely the comic moment of 2003. Penny Russell-Smith, press secretary to the Queen, had bravely honoured an invitation to my paper's monthly lunch for "interesting people" - despite our Paul Burrell book revelations just a week before.

After an amiable two-hour romp through matters of state, I dropped Penny off outside the Palace gates and she asked nervously: "You haven't got any more surprises for us this year, have you, Piers?"

"Good lord no, Penny," I replied. "Her Majesty can sleep well tonight. Don't worry." What I failed to add was the reason I could be so sure of our monarch's comfort was that my undercover footman, Ryan Parry, would be personally plumping her pillows.

This is the 10th year I have been editing tabloid newspapers and what started as a bit of an annus horribilis has turned into quite an "annus extraordinarius".

The Mirror's extrication from the price war we'd started with Rupert Murdoch (we know, we know, it wasn't the cleverest idea in the world) cost us quite a few readers who were sadly tempted, albeit briefly, by a cheaper Sun. Just to help things out, we launched a huge, vociferous and now totally vindicated campaign against the Iraq war, which also cost us a load of readers.

I swiftly concluded, with the help as ever of my media commentator friends, that this was not the greatest start to our centenary celebrations - and that only one thing could rescue our season: a series of stunning offensive triumphs. And not with the greater commercial gunfire of our rivals - but with those quaint old things, genuine world scoops.

In August, we landed Tony Martin's story, with one of the smaller offers he received from 400 media organisations worldwide. It sold us buckets of papers, got us relentless TV coverage and struck such a powerful nerve that members of the public took the unprecedented step of phoning the Press Complaints Commission to demand they didn't take action against us.

In October, we broke what I thought would be the biggest scoop of the year - Paul Burrell's amazing "Diana letter" predicting her own death. And we followed it up with a week of stunning Royal exclusives from the butler who was treated like dirt and won't go quietly, rather like his old boss.

But then, a couple of weeks later, came the really big one. Ryan Parry, a Mirror graduate trainee at the time, revealed he'd spent two months working inside the Palace. His quite sensational exposé of deplorable lapses in both the Royal Family's security and taste in bedroom decor dominated the world news headlines for days, made the secret service look like a bunch of muppets, and ensured my knighthood - already in jeopardy after Iraq - was now sadly destined for the Tupperware bin.

There were some good scoops in other papers I'm sure, I just can't recall them as I write. As far as other papers' achievements go in 2003, I hugely admired The Independent's decision to go tabloid, but that wasn't a journalistic scoop, it was a piece of commercial genius.

The Mirror didn't have the greatest sales year in our history for reasons totally unconnected to my utterly brilliant staff. But we had one of the greatest years editorially, waging a powerful campaign against something very important, and breaking the three biggest scoops of the year.

Happy Christmas.

Guy Black
Director of the PCC

The storm clouds were gathering at the start of 2003. Self regulation and the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) were under threat - again. The Lord Chancellor was proposing to ban witness payments by law - the first set of statutory controls that would have been imposed on the press. The culture select committee was beginning an intense inquiry into privacy and media intrusion. The courts were poised to strike in high profile cases - Radio 1 DJ Sara Cox and Catherine Zeta Jones - in a way which might have produced a back door privacy law. In Parliament, MPs and peers were seeking to put the PCC under the control of Ofcom.

How different the start of 2004 looks. The select committee came - and went, and in the process produced the first parliamentary report which endorsed self regulation and the work of the PCC. The Cox case was settled out of court, and the ruling in the Zeta Jones case underlined that the judges were not interested in fashioning a privacy law. The Lord Chancellor backed off his plans to ban witness payments by law following a change to the editors' code. And the Communications Bill settled safely on the statute book with the integrity of the PCC in tact. Self regulation and the PCC are safe for now. No external threats loom. But that places on the commission a continuing need for vigilance. Permanent evolution is the only way to secure press freedom and self regulation in the long term.

And that is just what the PCC will be doing in 2004. A new lay commissioner will be appointed next month, strengthening the PCC's indep-endence. Ten lay members, instead of nine, will balance seven senior editors. A new customer services audit panel will scrutinise the commission's work. A charter commissioner will hear procedural reviews. City meetings in Edinburgh and Cardiff will follow on from a successful open meeting in Manchester to hear what local people think about the PCC. The editors' code committee will undertake an audit of the code to see that it is living up to public expectations.

At the same time, the commission will continue under the leadership of Sir Christopher Meyer to ratchet up standards of reporting and provide members of the public, particularly those in vulnerable positions, with swift and effective methods of redress.

Simon Shaps
Chief executive, Granada productions

Some time in the distant future a group of ruddy-faced former TV executives will sip warm ale and ponder the events of 2003. They will marvel at memories of Cilla's on-screen abdication and chuckle at reports of her latest clubbing exploits in Faliraki. They will recall the spectacle of Michael Jackson climbing trees, shopping for million dollar souvenirs and wilting under the incredulous gaze and persistent questioning of Martin Bashir. A tear will come into their eyes as they remember programmes of the power of Prime Suspect, Cold Feet and Henry VIII. One of them will inevitably say "They don't make them like that today". The others will nod in silent agreement. And then there was Hutton, Derren Brown, Boys and Girls, the descent of RI:SE, the birth of Wilkomania, and talent shows from pop to opera.

One of those former TV executives might even be me. (But then we are talking about the year 2050.) My abiding memory of 2003 will be of a corporate drama, played out on the front pages, back pages and business pages of national newspapers. It took the plotline of the ITV merger, and turned it into a long-running soap. The merger was, in some way, the least surprising event of 2003. The process had begun almost a decade earlier with the beginnings of ITV consolidation, and the endgame was always a single company. But within sight of the sunny uplands, dark storm clouds appeared. Predators were said to be waiting in the wings to take over the company. In the end, in an epic twist - worthy of an hour-long soap special - Michael Green, chairman designate of ITV, was forced to step down.

None of these events, however raked over, in the end distracted ITV from doing what it does best; commissioning and producing quality popular television. Despite the tens of millions of pounds of extra money ploughed into BBC1, and the growth of multi-channel, ITV held firm in peaktime with a share just under 30 per cent, two points ahead of BBC1. It also had in ITV2, the uncrowned channel of the year. ITV2 is now the top digital channel in Freeview homes, and the eighth biggest in multi-channel TV. Its growth - particularly among 16-34 year olds - outstrips the opposition by a mile.

But just as ITV was finally coming together, there were signs that those 800lb gorillas, the BBC and Sky, were running into trouble. The coincidence of the Hutton inquiry and the start of BBC charter review was not helpful to the corporation.

If Hutton focused on the BBC's journalism and governance, the charter review threatened to poke a finger into everything the BBC did with the licence fee, from digital channels to its commercial activities. Meanwhile, Sky faced a more uncertain future than might have seemed likely at the start of the year, with a new chief executive and a successful challenge from Europe to overturn its deal for live Premiership football.

So, as the grumpy old TV men ponder the past, they might point to 2003 as the year ITV began its fightback. And while Cilla may have gone, those two chirpy lads from Newcastle didn't seem such a bad substitute.

Stephen Carter
Chief executive, Ofcom

This year we at Ofcom moved into our London headquarters; we are now ready to take up our responsibilities as the converged regulator for a £44bn a year communications industry. Next Monday, we officially take over the work of five existing regulators - the Independent Television Commission, Broadcasting Standards Commission, Radio Authority, Oftel and the Radiocommunications Agency.

Ofcom has been created against a backdrop of significant change across the waterfront of sectors we will regulate. In television the merger of Carlton and Granada should allow a reinvigorated ITV better to meet its public service broadcasting obligations for the benefit of viewers, whilst the rapid adoption of Freeview is bringing a new demographic to the digital television universe.

In radio, the liberalisation of ownership rules will create opportunities for greater investment in the sector. In telecommunications the UK witnessed the launch of the first commercial 3G service and a rapid acceleration in the adoption of broadband. In spectrum the emergence of new wireless data services such as wi-fi heralded the beginning of a new phase in the consumer technology revolution.

Amid these developments Ofcom began work on its three major priorities for next year: a far-reaching public service broadcasting review, a strategic study of the UK telecommunications sector, and a consultation on radical proposals to allow the trading of rights to use radio spectrum.

We've also clearly laid out Ofcom's founding principles. Ofcom will operate with a bias against intervention, but with a willingness to intervene firmly where required.

Garry Lace
Chief executive, Grey London

This year has been another difficult one for the industry. Two years ago, Sir Martin Sorrell, the chief executive of WPP, likened the shape of the advertising recession to a bath tub. We have remained firmly inside his bath - although there are recent signs that a recovery is on its way.

The true cost of this recession became apparent this month when it was revealed that the total redundancy bill for the UK's largest advertising agencies has exceeded £25m. Against this testing background, we created some real success stories. The "118 118" work from WCRS really exemplified the power of advertising. I loved the runners infiltrating Wimbledon during a lull in play. The agency of the year, BBH, gave the nation the dancing geek for Lynx. Sales went through the roof and they managed to get a No 1 song out of it along the way.

This year also saw the start of the big agency revolution. A market that has, for the last few years, been dominated by news from the smaller shops suddenly wised up to the need for big agencies to substantially raise their game. No one could have predicted a year ago that McCann's would have hired the supremely talented duo of Rupert Howell and Robert Campbell to lead the charge for them. And 2003 saw some other very significant people moves. There is now a clear divide in our business between leaders who talk about talent acquisition, and leaders who actually put their money where their mouths are. If you're in the latter category, sleep easy. If you're not, get spending or die.

The role of media and, more specifically, media-neutral planning continued to cram the airwaves. Agencies debated how best to crack the conundrum of bringing communications-neutral planning into the heart of their process. While this debate went on, Naked confirmed their place at the top by being named media agency of the year for the third year running.

So, what of 2004? I hope that people can begin to put away their hair shirts. Ours is a business that continues to be one of the best and most effective. I hope that we remind ourselves and our clients of this a bit more often next year.