Want to modernise TV trading? Advertisers must take the lead, ITV says

Nick Manning wrote an insightful article for Campaign recently, in which he said: “Yesterday’s trading practices are harming today’s TV advertising.”

Nick is well placed to have an informed view and highlights many of the key factors as to why TV trading still operates broadly in the same way today as it did 25 years ago and how the lack of evolution is not in the best interests of advertisers, agencies and broadcasters.

Putting it into TV vernacular, it’s our own media version of Life on Mars.

As someone involved intimately in the process, I agree wholeheartedly with the sentiment, but at the same time can’t help asking the question: is that really surprising?

The TV market has had its largest player, ITV, tied to regulations that maintain and expressly block any move away from the trading system established 25 years ago. 


Being locked into an anachronistic trading mechanic that centres on historic linear viewing dynamics at a time when viewers are increasingly looking to watch on-demand, is not only commercially stifling, it actually serves to penalise a company for evolving in the way its consumers want it to.

Disrupting a business is risky, but necessary. When the legacy business you are disrupting has a regulated and inflexible monetisation model, the risk is even greater.  

What is key, is that customers, and in this sense, I refer to agencies and advertisers, rather than viewers, support change.

In reality, that hasn’t been the case to date. The views of clients (via ISBA) and agencies (via IPA) on the merits of Contract Rights Renewal and all of its attendant mechanics are recorded in the annual Office of the Adjudicator’s report and have remained firmly in support of CRR’s continued existence since its inception in 2003.     

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Any change to market trading practices normally creates winners and losers, and I can only think that there are enough people who think they may lose, to make the status quo a more appealing option.

However, the biggest issue in defining who is winning and who is losing, is working out what winning and losing actually means.

It strikes me that this assessment is currently taking place through a lens fashioned in 1995.

Losing is not having automatic access to historic contracts that rely on share trading, discounts and measurement of centre breaks, dayparts and position in break.

How do these metrics translate into the addressable on-demand world that is already with us today, where a drama may be launched on demand at the same time or even before it’s linear airing?

Or, looking across the next few years, a world where start-again functionality for live programming and addressability across linear as well as on-demand viewing is standard?

Embracing the future

There is a lot of work to be done to figure out how best we can all take advantage of the new viewing dynamics and targeting capabilities. 

What we need to leave behind and what we need to embrace will be an important conversation. 

However, one thing is clear, without agencies and clients taking a leap of faith and letting go of the perceived protection of past trading metrics, developments will be slower than they should be and we’ll all be firing up the Audi Quattro for some time to come.

Ben Allen is director of commercial strategy and trading at ITV


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