Everyone may yet come out a winner from the Ramsay v Grimshaw showdown over at Nine because conflict is what the punters love and nothing fuels publicity like a slanging match between prominent presenters.

All this outrage — at least some of which is confected — is generating the sort of publicity the Nine couldn’t buy. It may be negative press, but the network is more than happy to accept it in the name of ratings.

It seems to be working very well for Nine’s A Current Affair, with their ratings up 20 percent on last week. It might work for Ramsay too, spinning off into bigger audiences for his new cooking show.

The publicists at Nine know all this. They understand that conflict has an allure which the rest of the media can’t resist. Just look at how the tabloids have been feasting on this story from the first insult and how they’re still gorging on it today, savoring every last morsel.

Crikey received a tip this morning that in October 2006 Ramsay completed a book tour of Australia which included an interview conducted by Grimshaw. The tipster wrote:

…in talks he gave in Australia he played up to his “bad boy” image which included references to Grimshaw as “a slapper” and commenting on how he thought her face would melt when she got close to the oven. No outrage back then and no hitting back from Grimshaw. He also gave John Laws, Kerrie-Anne Kennerley, a few UK celebrity chefs and the girl selling his books a going over as well.

What is obvious is that he plays up to an image with a much rehearsed routine. It is all for publicity and it has worked brilliantly.

Fast forward to 09 and the Herald Sun’s website is running with Ramsay’s unreserved apology and, somewhat paradoxically, with his further allegations that Grimshaw is “sad and bitter” and that she is acting unprofessionally for attacking his wife over what Ramsay claims was just a “tongue in cheek remark”.

The Daily Telegraph has kept pace, opening it up to the blogosphere with comments and editorials and new angles as they emerge.

And today there’s a ripper of an angle in the form of the insinuation that Ramsay may be a hypocrite and be gay himself because after apparently alleging that Grimshaw was a lesbian (a claim he denies), the media now has license to reveal that he was arrested 16 years ago in a public toilet.

Meanwhile the broadsheets get to tut tut from the sidelines and the other networks have the temerity to report on it all as if they are somehow above the fray. Then along comes the boutique media like Crikey which manage to find their own angles too.

Let’s face it, we can’t get enough of conflict. We’re hopelessly addicted to it. Good publicists know this and know how to manage our appetite for it.

There is some real substance to this conflict. Personalising abusive comments and making derogatory remarks about others on the basis of their gender, age or s-xuality should be condemned. But this has another dimension too it — a cynical and self serving one for the networks.

Nine benefits because Grimshaw comes out of this looking like a tough, feisty and somehow morally righteous journalist — no small feat for the presenter of ACA. Ramsay could benefit too, so long as the apology seems genuine enough and the follow up appearances are managed properly. His appeal could be enhanced. He might end up looking like a humbled and flawed man, rather than just a bombastic bully.

And it does all add up to real dollars for the network. As the Media buyer, Harold Mitchell, told Crikey; “…a stronger Current Affair is the cornerstone for the night’s viewing and if Nine gets that right it puts pressure on the competitors and it’s worth millions for the Nine Network.”

If only we had the courage to just ignore them.