Ad-funded TV is hindered by second-choice system

Agencies are not hostile to ad-funded shows. Given the programme choices they face, it is not yet a feasible communication option, says Richard Foster

The recent Media Analysis, “Why ad-funded TV is kept off-air” (MW July 15) raised some interesting points, and I would like to add to the debate.

I believe the reason why advertiser-funded programmes (AFP) are kept off-air is due to the way they are developed.

Advertising and media agencies are far from “hostile” towards AFP, however, they are accountable to their clients for devising effective communication strategies and delivering them at the right price.

These agencies have the benefit of looking at all media options, not just AFP, when devising a strategy. They also know that to the consumer, because of Independent Television Commission regulations, AFP and broadcast sponsorships are exactly the same thing.

So why is there only one AFP currently on air, but a huge number of broadcast sponsorships?

It is simply because agencies are in a much better position to judge a broadcast sponsorship’s value when they first assess the venture. They can make a decision on its synergy with the brand; which channel the show appears on; which month; the time-slot; and, above all, the media return on the investment. None of these are offered at the initial stages of an AFP deal.

Therefore, in general, broadcast sponsorships are considered before AFP.

One possible benefit AFP has over broadcast sponsorship is being able to sell the show overseas to recoup investment or generate extra media value. However, few clients have the worldwide reach or the personnel necessary to do this.

It is no coincidence that all the high quality, independently made TV programmes have not been AFP. Why? Because the production companies know that if the idea is strong enough, a broadcaster will commission it, so naturally this is their first port of call.

The AFPs that are usually offered to clients are programmes that a broadcaster has turned down for commissioning, but has indicated that it might find the programme a (usually low audience) time-slot if it receives the show for free. The broadcaster will happily put that show on air because it would not have found a sponsor for that slot anyway.

If the programme idea is strong enough, a broadcaster will commission it and sell the sponsorship itself. The broadcaster can also sell the commercial space in and around the programme, which means a significant return on investment.

The success of a project depends on how the partnerships are formed. After all, it has to be a partnership that is beneficial to the broadcaster, the production company and the advertiser.

From a strategic point of view, AFP should be judged within the overall media process; it is another communication medium, although not currently as effective as others.

Richard Foster is business development director of Optimum View, a division of BMP OMD

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