Wednesday, August 06, 2008

It's All Over Now

In the 60s Lord Thomson famously called the ownership of a local ITV franchise in the UK 'a licence to print money'. Certainly, even the smallest of the broadcasters flourished as TV became a dominant, monopolistic medium.

Regulation was gradually relaxed and competition appeared, with inevitable results. In return, the local franchisee owners were allowed to merge creating what is today ITV (with three other franchise owners in the Channel Islands, Scotland and Northern Ireland).

Today's results from ITV plc show that Thomson's truism has long disappeared. The company was slow to move online and lacks the necessary skills to succeed. There are no major UK portals it can purchase and the valuations on successful online properties make it easier for them to acquire ITV rather than vice-versa. The lack of international presence is another issue in a global media world.

Their online TV JV, Kangaroo is a double edged sword and taking production in house with the expansion of ITV Productions would be an instinctive move for Michael Grade, which may prove to be the cleverest move of all.

So, what does ITV need to do to survive ?

First of all it needs to focus its role; media companies largely exist to deliver audiences to advertisers. But one, large amorphous audience is always going to be less valuable than highly targeted audiences. The long tail needs to be embraced and exploited.

Then, it needs to recognise that its current cost base is unrealistic for a contracting business and needs to seriously cut back.

A more imaginative approach needs to be taken to multiple income streams; premium phone lines and the loss of ITV Play were a blow to these plans, but this is no time to retrench.

Building brands and franchises; the value of TV is increasingly in its properties and ITV rarely own the formats it presents. Companies like HIT and Endemol show the way.

The company needs to set up an incubator and grow new online properties; it has been partially successful with ITV Local, but Friends Reunited shows why you can't afford to buy an audience.

The company needs to start delivering international audiences, realising that the old geographical paradigm for audience delivery is only half the story.

However, an overseas bid for the company at its currently deflated valuation cannot be far away. Oh, for the old days...

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