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
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
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,’
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
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
‘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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.