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We make television, not content, says ITV, as it fights for the values of ‘proven’ media

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We do not make content, we make television. We are not traditional media, we are proven media. There is no wastage in TV advertising – only bonus views. These were three of the big messages from ITV, the UK’s largest commercial broadcaster, as it sought to change the language of media this week. Speaking at Mediatel’s Videoscape, executives from the company made it clear that they are tired of the relentless focus on digital platforms and advertisers that achieve only a fraction of the reach and engagement that ITV delivers. This was a bold attempt to restate the case for television and the timing could not be better, given the growing concerns about digital viewability and fraud, and evidence that buyer sentiment is already shifting slightly back towards television.

Chris Goldson, Director of Creative Works and Commercial Marketing at ITV, admitted that his own company has been guilty of using the wrong language – by which he means language that has ultimately undermined TV. He highlighted the word ‘content’ and what he sees as the misuse of the phrase ‘AV’ – standing for audio-visual. “We make television, which is a very distinct thing from video, and we must guard against the belief that AV is a medium. AV is not a medium and should not become one. It is a set of like-minded media that includes television, cinema, radio and others, all distinct and with unique opportunities and benefits for advertisers.”

The context to the ITV presentation, hosted at the Bloomberg building in London, is the increasing convergence of planning and buying teams within agencies, with some moving towards AV teams rather than TV and digital teams. While that may make sense in a world where brands are trying to engage with consumers across multiple channels and devices, broadcasters are worried that some planners are starting to believe that all video is equal.

At Videoscape, Goldson emphasised: “TV and video work well side-by-side and we have video content but what we make is not ‘content’. We create content from our main product – television. We have been guilty of describing what we make as content but we do not create content, we create programmes including dramas and documentaries and soaps.” He said that Amazon and Netflix, like Channel 4, ITV and Sky, are creating television. To make sure everyone got the message, he confirmed: “We don’t make content, we make television.”

Goldson wants the industry to stop describing television as ‘traditional’ media, too, partly because it portrays an image of old-school practices when in fact TV has been very adaptable and innovative, and is now on all platforms. More importantly, television has proven itself to advertisers over 60 years. He pointed to question marks about the validity of digital measurement and concerns about viewability and non-human traffic fraud, calling these doubts the ‘elephant in the room’. “We are not traditional, but proven. We are proven media,” he told the Videoscape audience.

Goldson thinks television has been undermined by modern media language in other ways. The ratings system, which states the proportion of a target audience that a programme reached, as a percentage, means that an audience of 5 million could be represented by a 10% measurement, stated as 10TVR. He thinks broadcasters should start stating how many people they reached, and for how long.

He contrasted the publicity given to the digital video ‘triumph’ when Felix Baumgartner (of Red Bull Stratos) broke the record for the highest freefall with his edge-of-space skydive in 2012 to what broadcasters achieve as a matter of course. That event was seen by 8 million people, half of them dropping out at the halfway mark. “That was 8 million viewers globally – that figure is just a Monday night show for us in the UK and we hold people’s attention for half an hour.”

Goldson also declared war on waste – not ‘waste’ itself, as that does not exist on television, he argued, but on the term ‘waste’ and the assumption that with TV you pay for audiences you do not want. “This is the most misleading word of them all,” he said, acknowledging that ITV has been complicit in establishing what is now considered the wrong choice of word, even when the company was defending TV with phrases like ‘positive wastage’ or the ‘power of wastage’ or the assertion that ‘you can build brands on wastage’.

Now ITV is taking a much tougher line! “There is no wastage in TV. If you buy a specific audience, like 16-34s, you only pay for that part of the audience and you are not charged for the other people watching a programme. You don’t pay for the 37-year-olds. Traditionally, this is called wastage but it is a bonus. You get it free. You pay for what you wanted but you get more viewers.” Goldson believes there is value in these bonus viewers as they help you to build brands.

[The idea that you only pay for target audience and not for anyone else was challenged from the audience, based on the way TV is priced.]

ITV showed a chart showing the reach of various video platforms together with the time consumers spend with them, on an average week, to demonstrate the dominance of commercial TV. Goldson bemoaned the fact that so much of the focus in the media industry today is on the companies who are only a fraction as useful to advertisers as the broadcasters. The company has clearly decided to take a more belligerent approach when it comes to standing up for commercial TV.

Photo: Chris Goldson of ITV, speaking at Videoscape.


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