FOCUS: BROADCASTING; Starring role in digital switch

BROADCAST NEWS: The advent of digital television broadcasting is set to revolutionise broadcast PR BUDGETS: Financial restrictions on programme makers will provide opportunities for PR practitioners NARROWCASTING: New niche channels will create small, easy to target television audiences

BROADCAST NEWS: The advent of digital television broadcasting is set to

revolutionise broadcast PR

BUDGETS: Financial restrictions on programme makers will provide

opportunities for PR practitioners

NARROWCASTING: New niche channels will create small, easy to target

television audiences

Digital TV’s introduction next year will provide the PR industry with a

fresh opportunity to make an impact on programme production.

Bruce Springstein made a killing out of singing about the state of

television with his ‘57 channels and there’s nothing on’ lyric.

The UK is about to find out whether he was right when the multichannel

revolution gets under way in earnest next year.

Digital television will begin broadcasting in December 1997 on the six

multiplexes which are being licensed by TV regulator the Independent

Television Commission.

Each multiplex will have the capacity to carry up to six channels each,

depending on the quality of pictures and sound which they broadcast.

If the prospect of an extra- terrestrial network - Channel 5 starts

broadcasting in January - seems exciting, just imagine the prospect of

around another 36 channels. And that’s before the ever increasing number

of cable and satellite stations are added to the total figure.

Recently, Granada Sky Broadcasting (GSB), a partnership between Granada

and BSkyB, announced that it is launching seven channels on 1 October.

The total number of television channels in the next decade could easily

go into the hundreds.

Although this fast changing and dynamic market is becoming difficult to

keep tabs on, it presents far greater opportunities for the PR industry

than ever before.

‘The impact for clients is breathtaking,’ says David Davis, senior vice

president international of video news release company Medialink. ‘It’s

going to mean a broad spectrum of highly specialised news programmes,’

he adds.

The opportunities are being presented by two key factors.

Firstly, the growing number of channels has lead to the development of

narrowcasting, the creation of small, targeted channels, as opposed to

broadcasting, which, like ITV, appeals to mass audiences.

GSB’s channel line-up, for example, includes targeted channels such as

Granada Men and Motoring, Food and Wine, Health and Beauty, Home and

Garden and Granada Talk TV.

Secondly, despite the competition between channels for audiences, many

will find themselves working on shoe-string budgets. Cable channels are

already becoming more amenable to forging relationships with PR

companies than many of their terrestrial counterparts. The days of

banging futilely on broadcasters’ doors with ideas for programmes could

be numbered.

In fact, the diversity of television channels will effectively mean that

the television market could start to resemble the press market, where

magazines and newspapers can be easily targeted because they have

defined audiences.

‘I think many people have been put off using television channels because

their experience may have been with the BBC, which is a very big

organisation. Cable channels are more like magazines. It’s much easier

to know who to go to,’ says Allan Rogers, programme director at new

Christian cable channel Ark 2.

But the television revolution begs one question. If the PR industry has

been slow and relatively unsuccessful in generating broadcast coverage

in a limited environment, will it have the expertise to deal with a

large number of channels?

‘Yes, there has been a mystique about television,’ says Stuart Maister,

managing partner of the television consultancy and video news release

producer The London Bureau. ‘But I think a lot of the problem has been

the relatively short supply of television outlets in the past. I think

many PRs have just given up trying to get coverage. It will be a lot

easier when there are more stations.’

Maister says business is showing strong growth and more stations are

using PR-generated footage, despite controversy earlier in the year

about the use of VNRs.

Broadcast specialist Bulletin International is meeting the challenge of

the digital revolution with on-line technology. Last month, the company

unveiled Bulletin News Network, a service which feeds clients stories to

12,500-plus international broadcasters on a 24-hour basis, providing

access to downloadable shortlists, background information and previews

of available footage. ‘This side of our service is going to grow very

fast. We have already had huge interest from broadcasters who are

starting to use the Internet,’ says Bulletin International managing

director Anthony Hayward.

Recent research commissioned by Bulletin revealed that 77 per cent of PR

professionals across a broad spread of industries now acknowledge the

requirement for specialist broadcast advice.

Programme directors and producers are also positive about the

relationship they can have with PR companies.

‘They can be quite useful because our budgets are very small,’ says Ark

2’s Rogers. However, he adds that much of the material he receives is

not usable because it is not targeted closely enough at his channel’s


Debbie Mason, founder of production company Kudos, which is launching

the youth channel Rapture in October, believes ‘there is a lot of room

to get more involved with PR’.

‘We will use some of the electronic press kits we are sent from the

fashion and music industries,’ says Mason.

But, like Rogers, Mason adds a proviso: ‘Ultimately, our intention is to

make good programmes, so the ideas and the footage we receive must be

based on quality.’

London Bureau’s Maister believes the quality issue is where public

relations companies can score points.

‘Many of the new cable channels, like Channel One, use video journalists

who are shooting footage quickly. If footage is professionally shot, the

cable channels will use it,’ says Maister.

The Independent Television Commission’s codes on advertising and

sponsorship, which apply to existing television stations, will also

apply to all new stations.

The ITC says that it will not be taking a more laissez-faire approach to

commercial activity within programmes. Product placement will continue

to remain off limits.

Furthermore, the extra channels will make monitoring broadcast coverage

more of a headache - and an expensive one if the monitoring is

contracted out.

But even if the channels can be monitored to see who is using your

footage or VNR, there is still the big problem of finding out who is

watching the channels and whether the audiences are the ones you want to

attract. ‘The audience doesn’t seem to have grown, it has just become

more fragmented,’ says Hayward.

BARB, the Broadcasters Audience Research Board, which collates viewing

figures for terrestrial channels and some of the satellite stations,

does not monitor cable channels because the viewing numbers are

considered too small to warrant measurement.

However, BARB is currently addressing the problem, although there is

little hope of a solution to the problem in the near future.

Possibly one of the biggest questions for PR companies in the digital

age is how they regard broadcast production? Is it a skill that should

be outsourced, as many companies currently do? Or is it integral to

their business in the same way that writing and producing press kits


If Channel One can use video journalists, and the BBC multi-skill

journalists across TV and radio, it will be interesting to see whether

PR firms decide to bring television broadcast expertise in-house in the


News interest: British viewers keep an eye on their own

The UK, where households receive on average nine television channels, is

second only to Turkey for its concentration of couch potatoes. The

average viewing per day in the UK is 3.13 hours, compared with Turkey’s

3.8 hours.

This was just one of the findings from the biggest piece of global

research into broadcasting conducted by US based international research

company Roper Starch Worldwide and Discovery Communications earlier this


The survey of 40,000 people in 41 countries worldwide - 14,000 people in

21 European countries - also found that the UK is the most nationalistic

when it comes to its own television programmes. Seventy-nine per cent of

UK respondents rate UK programmes as best while the majority of the

remaining 21 per cent said that US programmes are best.

We may be Europe’s second nation of couch potatoes but we are watching

less television than ten years go.

According to figures from the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising,

viewers watched an average of 3.77 hours a week of terrestrial

television in 1985. Ten years on, this has dropped to 3.19 hours for

terrestrial TV.

If cable and satellite viewing hours are thrown in to give a

consolidated figure, the time spent watching television has dropped from

3.81 hours in 1992 to 3.59 at the end of last year.

ITV has suffered the most from the drop in TV viewing.

However, after several years of steady decline in audiences, the channel

showed signs in the first quarter of this year that it may have stopped

the rot.

Despite the overall decline in TV viewing, cable and satellite

television are performing strongly. They accounted for more than ten per

cent of all television viewing for the first time in the first quarter

of this year.

Indeed, about a third of homes now have cable television, although cable

in homes is being used more for telephone services than it is for

hooking up to cable television, according to the Independent Television

Commission (ITC).

So what are viewers most interested in?

News is the programme type of most interest to UK television viewers,

with 85 per cent ‘very’ or ‘quite interested’ in it, according to the

ITC’s report ‘Television: The Public View’. The report shows that

interest is particularly high among men and viewers aged over 65.

Indeed, when asked where they got their news about what is happening in

the world, 95 per cent of the respondents mentioned television, with 70

per cent saying newspapers, and 54 per cent radio.

‘More repeats’ was cited as the main reason for believing that programme

standards have declined, particularly for BBC1 and ITV.

TV guides: Fine tuning campaigns

Not too clued up on what’s what in the world of television? Here’s a

reading list to help you find the right channels and contacts and a few

pointers to some useful background reading on what’s hot and what’s not

allowed on television.

If your television viewing doesn’t stretch much beyond the BBC and ITV,

the quickest way to get a flavour of what’s on offer is to get hold of

some of cable and satellite listings guides. IPC’s TV and Satellite Week

costs 70 p but for a more comprehensive read get the monthly Cable

Guide, published by Cable Guide Ltd for pounds 2.50. It includes full

listings for 54 channels. There is also the monthly Satellite Times at

pounds 2.

After identifying the type of channel you want, the next best step is to

spend time watching programmes to get a feel for the style and content.

One of the most common complaints from television channels is that PRs

have very little idea about the type of programmes they run.

There is a large selection of directories on offer from the Cable

Communications Association. Among its literature is the Cable Companion

which has ten sections covering the history and development of cable:

cable technology; how cable works; legislation and regulation; glossary

of terms; and useful contacts. A free condensed version entitled The

Case for Cable provides facts on recent cable deals and the growth of

broadband cable.

The Independent Television Commission also produces a number of

documents and directories.

A very useful pocket book is the free ITC Factfile. It lists cable,

satellite and terrestrial channels with addresses, telephone numbers and


Also worth getting is a copy of the ITC Code of Advertising Standards

and Practice and the ITC Code of Programme Sponsorship - both free.

Guidance notes are also available on advertising regulations governing

specific sectors such as pharmaceutical products and toys.

A well-thumbed directory for the broadcasting business is the British

Blue Book of Broadcasting, published by Tellex Monitors. This provides

names and contact numbers for producers and directors.

Philips Business Information has recently brought out this year’s Cable

TV and Telecom Year Book, its annual report of cable operations in the

UK.The Who’s Who in Cable and Satellite, published by Philips is also a

handy reference, although it is rather on the technical side.

For more of a layman’s approach, the Guardian’s Media Guide provides

good contact lists and useful short histories and updates and

developments to different media sectors.

Broadcast consultancy and video news release producer The London Bureau

produces a monthly bulletin The TV Forward Planner, and provides details

on what footage, personal interviews and picture opportunities it can

provide on behalf of clients.

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