100 days to shape up

There are roughly 100 days to go until Christmas, but who looks set to be the festive turkey? Some media owners, agencies and organisations are looking a bit flabby around the sides – it’s time to get sharp

In the TV world, there is a phenomenon known as jumping the shark.

It describes that unfortunate moment – only identifiable with the benefit of hindsight – when a longrunning series peaks and then plummets in quality, never to reach the same heights again.

In nasty medialand, where one brand’s success is another brand’s failure, there is nothing unfortunate about the realisation that a rival seems to have lost its grip on what made it good in the first place.

Let’s face it, we all love a bit of schadenfreude.

At the suggestion of our guest editor, we have taken it upon ourselves to bring some of the biggest disappointments up short while there’s still time to turn things around before Christmas.

We have therefore ruefully identified the most serious under-performers from the six key categories – TV, radio, newspapers, magazines, agencies and, er, organisations which generically market newspapers.

This is with the genuine hope that they take our criticism in the right spirit, give themselves a long, hard look in the mirror and put on the kind of surge of form which banishes their recent shortcomings to the back of all our minds.

Or they might just want to pack it all in and do something else.

But in the lightning world of media, there is almost always room for recovery, which is why it doesn’t seem too unfair to say, as of this week, there are 100 days left until Christmas, and no one wants to be a turkey, so you’d better shape up!

Loaded

Lord knows it’s never easy for an elder child when a new baby arrives.

Once feted and doted upon, the first sibling suddenly finds the amount of love available from its parents and the world at large has apparently been divided by at least half, and frequently by rather more than that.

So how proud Mr and Mrs IPC must be at the way 10-year-old Loaded has moved right over in the bed to make so much room for little Nuts, the bouncing new arrival into the fold.

Loaded was the hardest hit of the monthly men’s mags when the impact of the weeklies was finally evaluated in last month’s ABC release, not least because it broadly shares its taste in readers with both Nuts and Zoo.

The loss of a painful 10.6% of its circulation over the past six months leaves Loaded on 235,140 (or fewer than 200,000 if you discount bulks and overseas sales). Not a pretty sight whichever way you spin it.

“Loaded is the ’90s,” says Total Media press manager Dennis Perks. “FHM essentially is the ’90s, although they have moved forward a bit. But the whole market has changed so There are roughly 100 days to go until Christmas, but who looks set to be the festive turkey? Some media owners, agencies and organisations are looking a bit flabby around the sides – it’s time to get sharp 100 days to shape up Loaded much with the launch of the weeklies, and I don’t think there is anything much Loaded can do.

“I can just see it going down and down and down.”

On the one hand, Loaded’s circulation is just a couple of thousand down on the magazine’s ABC circulation in the first six months of 1996, when 238,955 copies swaggered off the shelves each month and FHM was still just a competitor for Loaded’s crown.

But on the other hand, the combined market for weeklies and monthlies is now nearly four million, FHM has sales of 573,713 – even after a 4.6% fall – and Loaded is referred to most often as the historical precedent for the kind of pioneering market growth conjured up by Nuts and Zoo.

It is true that Loaded was always more about agenda setting and zeitgeist indexing than it was about monster sales, and FHM’s triumph was in finding a mainstream approach to a market which had been carved out largely by Loaded’s wit and nerve.

But in defining an era, Loaded has rooted itself in the popular consciousness as the quintessential lads’ mag of the late-’90s.

In the mid-Noughties, either the world needs to start spinning back in the other direction or Loaded needs to quickly get back in shape (and we hear on the grapevine that IPC has big plans to breath new life into it).

Kelvin says...

"I think Loaded is too close to pornography. You can get porn anywhere now, so, unless they go back to proper journalism, which they used to have, they’re in big trouble and are my top tip to be turkeys at Christmas.".

Sky’s music channels

The Amp, Scuzz, Flaunt.

Never heard of them? Don’t worry, you’re not alone.

It is fairly easy to rationalise a disappointing commercial performance if you can successfully pretend that you weren’t trying all that hard in the first place.

But Sky’s three digital TV music channels launched onto the market amid much selfgenerated fanfare in April 2003 with the transparently obvious intention of playing MTV at its own game.

After all, why pay Viacom a fortune for its music channels when, with all the same music content from the same promotion-hungry record labels, you could just make your own? How hard could it be? So Sky set up Flaunt, a chart station targeting girls aged 13 to 16 with pop and urban music, its sights trained on MTV Hits and Emap’s The Box.

It launched The Amp, which targets indie fans and aimed to get under the skin of MTV2.

And it came up with Scuzz, which was designed to appeal to metallers in much the same manner as Emap’s thoroughly successful Kerrang! TV. All three took advantage of the interactive format pioneered by Emap.

All three have proved about as popular as the boy with nits at the school disco.

Now, 17 months after their launch, viewing figures for Flaunt, Scuzz and The Amp are so modest – roughly 2,000 viewers each at any one time, according to Barb – you can only wonder whether Rupert Murdoch knows he owns them.

In terms of direct competitors, The Vault, a shoestring operation run by Chart Show TV, pulls in double the number of viewers, while Channel U, another independent music channel, rates at roughly the same level as the Sky channels but has carved out a niche among serious urban music fans as the place to catch tomorrow’s superstars on their way up.

Whereas Channel U’s audience profile consists of genuine urban music fanatics, Sky’s music audience simply seem to have got lost on their way somewhere else.

Neither influential or groundbreaking enough to be convincingly niche, nor anywhere near big enough to claim to service the mainstream, Flaunt, Scuzz and The Amp are now rumoured to have their necks on the block.

BSkyB has put the three stations under review, having poached their head of music, Jo Wallace, for Sky One, and it is hard to see what, short of a Christmas miracle, might save them now.

A major launch campaign and generous resources have not saved Sky from an expensive lesson – that it takes more than just generic content to forge a music brand. Today, sharing a rung on the ratings ladder with such big hitters as the Extreme Sports Channel, the Wrestling Channel and Game Network, Flaunt, Scuzz and The Amp are digital filler.

Where Sky takes them next without throwing good money down the khazi is frankly anyone’s guess.

PHD

If PHD’s own brand heritage were not so impressive, its misfortunes of the past year might have struck the agency world simply as part of the cut and thrust of the agency business.

But just as the Rolling Stones only started billing themselves as “the greatest rock & roll band in the world” in the mid-’70s when they ceased to actually be it, so PHD’s new selfdescription as “the pioneering agency” seems like a defiant reference to former glories during a troubled time.

While the agency’s past expeditions into the unknown have seen it come back with the blueprint for strategic and media-neutral planning, the first IPA effectiveness award for a media shop and some big, blue-chip clients, recent innovations only seem to farm PHD’s strengths out around the industry.

Its part in the £1bn Opera buying pool emphasises its diminutive billing size in comparison to Omnicom sister agencies OMD and Manning Gottlieb OMD, while its decision to move planners in alongside the best brains of Omnicom’s biggest creative shop, AMV BBDO, is a typically brave move with potentially damaging consequences for the structural integrity of PHD itself. As one senior source at a top 10 media agency said back in June, “at PHD at the moment, it seems that the planning has gone to AMV, the buying has gone to Opera and the business is going everywhere”.

Perhaps it is a question of perception – whatever else PHD has lost, such recent moves show it isn’t lacking in nerve.

Bad luck has certainly played a part: PHD’s £24m share of the HSBC account, worth £350m worldwide, left town as part of a global decision which reflects only on the network as a whole, and the planning share of the £30m O2 account slipped through PHD’s hands after the agency and its fellow incumbent were dramatically undercut by ZenithOptimedia.

Earlier this year, the agency resigned the £11m Pizza Hut brief in protest at the client’s proposed cut in fees – a characteristically bold move which helped to reinforce suggestions that PHD, rightly or wrongly, is an outfit which seems suddenly to have found itself in the wrong decade.

Homebase and Weetabix work have also flowed out of an agency that has always been exceptionally well-regarded, but appears to have been wrong-footed by the market in recent times.

Until the results of its latest pioneering efforts begin to reap dividends and inspire rivals in the way the 14-year-old agency always has, the industry will increasingly consolidate its view of PHD as the admirable, yet unfortunate victim of its own invention.
Daily Mirror

As bravely as the Mirror has fought in what could once be referred to as the battle of the red tops, it has come up a distant second best.

When Piers Morgan was sacked in May, having tripped once more across the line between mercurial and daft, it wasn’t immediately obvious whether the Mirror, in commercial terms, had got rid of its best foot or its Achilles heel.

From a commentator’s point of view, however, the sense of loss was palpable.

The Mirror under Morgan was a super-charged, celebrityDaily Mirror loving/hating fun bus with a warhead strapped to the front and a CND sticker in the window, but there was always the possibility that it would either run right into something or even, just possibly, win the race.

Since then, no one has known quite what they are dealing with, and that won’t change until Morgan’s replacement, Richard Wallace, shows his cards.

The paper’s continuing circulation decline in the months since the former editor’s exit does at least prove that a legion of lapsed readers wasn’t just waiting for the departure of Morgan before flooding back into the fold.

And the fact that the Mirror is still Britain’s third-biggest daily does not take into account either how far it has fallen or how rapidly it continues to slip.

The August ABCs showed a 7.08% year-on-year decline to 1.82 million against 3.38 million for The Sunand 2.32 million for the Daily Mail, both of which slipped to a lesser degree, period-on-period.

As former editor Roy Greenslade put it on the occasion of the paper’s centenary last year, the Mirror “is now in a cleft stick, with The Sun having stolen its Labour clothes, the Daily Star creaming off its underclass, and the Daily Mail having staked out the ground of the next generation of aspirational, affluent, largely de-classed Britons”.

But even now, few can conceive of a world in which the Mirror does not have a place. Some believe it still has a good opportunity to throw off the worthier habits of the lateperiod Morgan years and reclaim much of its youth appeal. Others see its woes as reflective of a malaise in the newspaper market as a whole.

“The Mirror has not been doing very well, but, there again, a number of national newspapers have not been doing well,” says Steve Goodman, group press director at MediaCom.

“I actually think newspapers haven’t kept up with the times in general.”

Capital FM

The Capital Radio Group’s “milestones” timeline on the company’s corporate website notes that 1990 was the year its flagship station overtook Radio 1 in London, claiming 2.8 million listeners.

It doesn’t mention that, in the third quarter of 2003, exactly 30 years since Capital launched as the first commercial music station in the UK, the Chrysalis-owned Heart broke Capital FM’s 13-year dominance of the London market – and if that’s not a milestone, it’s hard to know what is.

Capital reclaimed pole position the following quarter, helped by a strong parting stint from its outgoing breakfast show star, Chris Tarrant.

But where once Capital could look over its shoulder and see nothing but open road, the past decade has brought colossal commercial competition to London – specialist stations such as Heart, Kiss and Virgin have chipped away at the market leader bit by bit while Capital has steered an increasingly oldfashioned pop course.

However, it is the issue of the breakfast show succession that has worried the City most since mid-2002, when rumours began to circulate that Tarrant was tiring of early mornings after more than 16 years.

Most analysts held their breath with the eventual appointment and arrival of radio newcomer Johnny Vaughan in April, in spite of industry grumblings that he was too blokey and would turn off Tarrant’s female audience.

But when July’s Q2 Rajars revealed that Vaughan had already lost almost 200,000 of the 1.37 million listeners he inherited from his predecessor, and that, overall, the station’s audience share is now only a whisker ahead of that of rival Heart – at 6.6%, compared to Heart’s 6.5% – shares in Capital Radio Group fell immediately by 8%, from £4.70 to £4.31.

The City has found nothing to renew its faith since.

As Howard Bareham, head of radio for MindShare, puts it: “It’s a fair comment that performance should be judged over 12 months. However, when stations spend so much money on marketing, you would expect to see an improvement.”

According to Capital Radio chief executive David Mansfield, the group’s solution to the inevitable loss of Tarrant has been to “reinvent breakfast radio in London”, and the show will take a year or so to bed down.

An immediate dip was always on the cards, as Mansfield concedes, but a £4m advertising campaign suggested Capital thought it had the goods to ride it out.

And, just as Mansfield points out that there is more to Capital FM than its breakfast show, so Capital’s problems owe themselves to factors more complex than the difficult transition from one DJ to another.

The NMA

“There’s no point in telling us that men read sport pages or that women read newspapers, too – quellebloody surprise,” says one agency press director.

It might seem a little cruel to blame the Newspaper Marketing Agency for the difficulties besetting the newspaper advertising sector in general – but we are going to do it anyway. Indeed, if newspaper advertising hadn’t allowed its own image problem to develop, there wouldn’t have been any need for the NMA in the first place. But when you take a job on, there needs to be a positive result and it is fair to say that, as far as the NMA is concerned, now would be a good time to show one.

From an agency point of view, any organisation which presumes to tell them they have been putting their ads in the wrong place all these years is always going to be met with raised eyebrows.

And so far, the arguments in favour of diverting TV cash into newspapers just haven’t been compelling enough, fresh enough or even necessarily targeted at the right people.

The industry’s initial impression is that the NMA’s efforts have not filtered down to the planners and buyers who make so many of the day-to-day decisions.

“It seems to me that they only ever do anything with the top people at agencies,” says a press manager. “They could do more sending it out to the planners and everyday buyers and you might see a difference then.”

But, likewise, there is also a significant element within agency press departments that is crying out for persuasive research and isn’t quite sure why no one is trying harder to persuade it. Backers of the NMA conceded as much in Media Week’s round table a few weeks ago, but clearly it takes time to turn thought into deed, and what the agency is effectively looking at is the task of addressing a major PR job to some remarkably cynical people who have already pegged the NMA as something of a busted flush.

The aforementioned press director adds: “What would have been more interesting would have been the effect newspapers have within advertising; what part they play within the overall mix of everything; the effect of advertising depending on where it goes – is there an argument to say that advertising in sport for certain products is more effective?

“What effect is clutter actually having? What effect does mono over colour have? They say, ‘we want to take some revenue away from television’, well, who are they targeting and how are they going to convince them?”

The quantified promises of the Radio Advertising Bureau are one clear touchstone for the NMA moving forward – it needs to provide confident, detailed assertions that a particular type of advertising will net the advertiser a particular type of result. That shouldn’t be too hard. Go to it

Don’t think we’ve forgotten about…

Fusion

107.3 Officially the smallest radio station in the country, with a reach of just 5,000 (Rajar).

Havas

The French advertising group is tipped as a possible snack should any of the big four – Omnicom, Interpublic, WPP and Publicis – decide to put on a bit of weight in a hurry.

Barb

The TV ratings body’s credibility – already tested by the flood of niche channels – was dealt a blow with the resignation of CNBC Europe, which has opted to further trials of GfK Media’s wristwatch-based device.

Rosemary Conley Diet and Fitness

The steepest year-on-year faller among the top 100 consumer magazines, shedding 33.3% of its actively purchased sales to go from a porky 179,078 copies to a slimline 119,368.

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