Opinion: TV faces change, but PR can save itself

Like most journalists I tend to work up to the wire in terms of deadlines. And with just days to go until PRWeek's annual PR and the Media conference, which I am chairing, I have only just turned my thoughts to my opening speech.

As I am sharing the platform with the likes of The Independent editor Simon Kelner and The Sunday Times' business editor Will Lewis, I probably should have started work on this earlier. But after watching the fallout from Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell's ruling on the future of the BBC, I felt justified for having procrastinated.

Because rarely has there been a clearer indication of the seismic changes taking over broadcast media than Jowell's decision to cast a protective blanket over Auntie with ten more years of the licence fee. But even this gesture is likely to prove empty long before digital switchover in 2012, with increasing numbers of viewers and listeners bypassing the system and consuming programmes via the internet.

All of which has enormous significance for PROs. In fact the PR industry and the licence fee have a great deal in common. Both had their genesis in an era when you were pretty well guaranteed to be able to reach a majority of the population through four visual, and a few more audio, channels.

The problem is that a large proportion of the PR industry seems to be stuck in a time warp, no doubt nostalgic for the time when, if you got a story on the 6 O'Clock News, the job was done.

Saatchi & Saatchi chairman Lee Daley told The Times rather gloomily last week: 'The disaster is not far away for TV. Metaphorically the wheels have come off.' For adman Daley, the bogeyman is the personal video recorder, but for the PR industry and the BBC it is new media such as Google's web-TV search engine.

Households with web access number 27.5 million, and multi-channel penetration is at 50 per cent. Terms 'TV' and 'screen' are beginning to sound old hat, with people increasingly turning to multimedia platforms. And it isn't just anoraks: 994,000 people listen to radio via the web - 438,000 of them downloading such fare as The Archers.

The threat to PR comes in terms of the morphing nature of media consumption.

However, therein lies the opportunity. Brands ahead of the game can develop a whole new relationship with their audiences, helping producers to feed the need for multi-layered broadcast content.

Perhaps in the future there won't even be such a concept as a deadline.

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