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Webs think outside box to chase ad coin

participants include ITV, BSkyB, Turner, Viacom

LONDON — Leading media outfits are forming a joint-industry U.K. marketing body — Thinkbox — to persuade advertisers they need to be on the tube.

The $2.2 million charm offensive’s participants include dominant commercial web ITV, satcaster BSkyB and congloms Turner and Viacom.

New panbroadcasting body offers the strongest evidence yet that traditional TV spot advertising is under threat as the Internet, radio and personal video recorders all conspire to take coin from the coffers of commercial TV combos, now worth in excess of $6 billion.

Thinkbox bows Feb. 21 with a Web site and a rare admission from media owners that they have been guilty of high-handedness in their dealings with advertisers and agencies.

“TV has been misguided,” confesses terrestrial web Channel 4’s sales supremo Andy Barnes. “TV has looked inward … on the somewhat arrogant assumption that everything else would fall into place.

“We, along with everybody else, have to accept that the media landscape is changing.”

C4, together with ITV, breakfast station GMTV, BSkyB, Five, IDS, the sales house for UK TV, Viacom and Turner, have traditionally competed with one another for valuable airtime contracts.

As veteran British media scribe Ray Snoddy says: “Congratulations are due to these people, who are more used to fighting like cats in a sack but are now sitting down together in a common organization with a single board and the agreed purpose of trumpeting the benefits of television advertising.”

Thinkbox, which will provide workshops, carry out research on the effectiveness of TV advertising and host an annual one-day event for 500 guests, is unlikely to shine real light on complex airtime sales.

“It can be a complicated trading technique, but this is not about trading,” says Mark Wood, commercial director of BSkyB’s sales arm, Sky Media. “It’s about explaining to everybody in the marketing and communications mix that it’s as straightforward as any other medium to plan and buy.”

The Competition Commission remarks that selling TV airtime was far from straightforward when it investigated Carlton and Granada’s sales businesses before the merger of terrestrial giant ITV, which controls more than half the market.

What is remarkable is how long it has taken TV companies to form a united front to keep advertisers sweet.

Blighty’s newspaper and radio industries formed their own marketing bodies years ago; the Radio Advertising Bureau has been particularly effective in this respect.

It now remains to be seen if the firms can set aside rivalries and unite to proclaim the benefits of selling goods and services on the box.

“We are not going to stop competing with each other,” Wood concludes. “If we can work together and make advertisers see TV in a different way, then we will have succeeded.”

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