Digital opens door for advertiser TV

In a little over four weeks Schweppes will become a member of a growing band of advertisers – those exploring the world of broadcasting.

The vehicle it has chosen is the staging of the second Schweppes Euro BaSchhh – an alternative Eurovision song contest to be broadcast on Channel 4 on May 2. Broadcast after midnight and featuring bands which have already struck record deals, it will not in itself set new standards in broadcasting.

But it is another milestone along the road to more advertiser-funded programming in the UK. The advent of digital television will give more scope to advertisers. Broadcasters, working on restricted budgets, will welcome them as cheap programme-makers and even sponsors for whole channels.

At the moment brands have to circumnavigate a complex web of rules drawn up by the Independent Television Commission (ITC) in order to sponsor or produce programming. It prevents sponsors’ names appearing in programme titles on ITV, C4 and C5, unless the title is actually that of a sponsored event.

The Schweppes Euro BaSchhh, falls into this latter category. “The ITC has given us the tick,” says Schweppes marketing director Andrew Mann. He claims last year’s non-televised event met with such a positive response that a slot on TV has been secured. Now the event is credible we can go on to TV,” adds Mann. “It’s an event that we have developed in association with P@AMRA, the Performing Music Rights Association.”

The event, fronted by Sara Cox, host of C5’s Exclusive, and comedian Jeff Green, is being filmed by the production company Rapido. Funding for the event and the production comes from Schweppes.

The deal follows in the footsteps of a host of other brands and their event-led programmes, such as C4’s the Brats – the NME Music Awards – and C5’s Pepsi Chart. The area is controlled by rule 13 of the ITC’s code of programme sponsorship. It states that broadcast coverage of a programme may also be sponsored, even by the same sponsor as that of the event, or location.

Therefore brands can effectively pay for the event, named after the product, as well as covering the production costs of the programme. But the event has to be organised by an independent third party.

Visual or aural references made to branding, signage or advertising at the event must be limited to what can be justified by the editorial needs of the programme and would only be acceptable provided the event has “bona fide non-television status”.

To secure that status: “The development and running of the event must be done by a body whose existence is independent of television, advertising and promotional interests; television coverage must not be the principal purpose of the event; and the event must be open to members of the public, irrespective of whether or not it is televised.”

It is this issue of “independence” which causes most confusion. “These three conditions must be satisfied for the sponsor to get its name in the title of the programme,” says Martin Hart, head of sponsorship at the ITC. “The advertiser must be at arm’s length.”

But that condition is not entirely unambiguous in the Schweppes deal. And critics of C5’s Pepsi Chart show highlighted another area of confusion – whether the show was an “established event” and therefore acceptable under the ITC guidelines.

“The word ‘established’ doesn’t appear in the codes,” says Hart, who claims that even so, the event can trace its roots to the independent radio show. He says the emphasis is more on the fact that the running and organisation of the event is done on an independent basis.

The Pepsi Chart was organised by an events company.

“Ultimately, particularly with C5, the only way it can have a show of this sort at this cost is by advertiser-supply,” says Hart. “These events don’t happen without sponsorship. It’s the way that the set looks, the actual management of the event and the fact that the broadcaster is in control of editorial that is important.”

Laurence Munday, joint managing director of Drum PHD, the sponsorship arm of Abbott Mead Vickers.BBDO, says there is always a way around the rules. “Some areas of the ITC code are very grey when it comes to interpretation,” says Munday. But, he adds, a useful rule of thumb is “if it is not an event the broadcasters think worthwhile, it is not going to get shown anyway”.

Although Hart believes advertiser-supplied programming is sure to increase, he is surprised there is not more of it on cable and satellite channels. They already allow credits in programme titles for brands.

Munday agrees that there is an increasing number of clients interested in creating programming for television.

Munday says with digital “the logical conclusion is that advertisers may themselves fund channels”.

But, because a mass audience is not guaranteed, he sees advertisers using their own channel for tactical purposes, such as showing-off products to the trade.

Inventive ideas are the key to getting the most out of advertiser-supplied programming.

“You can produce a piece of programming that supports a client and works for them, rather than just saying ‘sponsored by X’,” says Munday, who struck a similar deal for bookseller Waterstone’s. It sponsored and funded a one-off programme called “Books of the Century” which was broadcast on C4 and then used as the focus of an in-store promotion.

As the cost of programming for a host of new digital channels increases, more brands are likely to divert part of their advertising and marketing budgets to programme-making.

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