Breaking out of the ad breaks

In his piece on Heinz Dinner Doctors (MW June 19), Torin Douglas’s comment that advertiser-funded programming hasn’t grown as fast as many expected is to an extent true (if not in the US), but the cause is perhaps not ITC regulation, but concerns among all parties about programme quality and credibility.

However, we are now in the middle of a period of great change in TV advertising – to the extent that the new collaborative relationship between broadcaster, production and brand communities can result in high-quality branded entertainment.

Four issues are central to this:

Good brand owners now understand that the content they create must stand up in its own right. Money is diverted into content largely because of the changing relationship between consumers and media. Interruption, advertisers’ traditional mechanism, is a much less effective tool these days (because of the increase in ad avoidance through channel-hopping and personal video recorder technology). Brands now have to seek voluntary engagement – asking consumers to come to them. They know they will fail if they use content as an opportunity for interruption by stealth.

Broadcasters are becoming more amenable to advertiser funding. Part of this has been down to a shift in broadcasters’ interest from commercial to commissioning departments. Consequently, programme ideas are discussed at a very embryonic stage – making the relationship between brand and programme much more strategic and implicit.

Producers in every market have a shelf full of great programme ideas that never surface, not because consumers don’t want them, but because they are deemed too experimental for the increasingly risk-averse broadcast environment. Producers realise that brands can provide the downside cover that broadcasters want but production companies can’t underwrite, not to mention the research skills needed to make the commissioning case.

The transfer of ad production budgets into the programme environment is hugely favourable. The typical cost associated with 30 seconds of TV advertising will produce far more programme content. And when brands begin to appreciate the revenue upside (international syndication, repeats and so on), they will become even more inclined to invest.

Through the provision and appropriation of innovative, high-end programme content, brands are beginning to realise that they can derive considerable consumer awareness and goodwill leaving more explicit sales messages for off-air exploitation in less demanding environments (websites, retail, magazines). The ITC issue will become increasingly marginal. As Coca-Cola chief operating officer Steven Heyer said earlier this year: “This is the era of co-creation: important brands tied to important content with an important reason why.”

I can just hear Jonathan Ross at next years Baftas: “…and the prize goes to Orange World…”

Mike Falconer

Managing director

Stream

London W1

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