Why television advertising is set to lead the new media revolution

Advertising and media experts frequently tell us that the internet will become the dominant communication platform – but not without the advice and knowledge of ‘traditional’ television

The internet – not television – is going to be the world’s most important medium. So says Dominic Proctor, chief executive of MindShare Worldwide, one of the world’s largest media agencies.

So why has he just hired a top TV programme executive from BSkyB to help advertisers communicate better with their consumers? Surely it’s the new generation of digital whizkids who’ll know best how to exploit the new medium? Not necessarily.

The reason Proctor makes his forecast – and he is not alone in his thinking – is that television content is rapidly forcing its way onto the internet and mobile phones. This is starting to undermine the traditional TV advertising model, built around the 30-second commercial spot. But it will also put an even higher premium on top-value programme content, which is why advertisers increasingly want to get involved in the production process.

“Given the creaking of the old model, one answer is for our clients to get involved in content,” says Proctor. “In our relationship with the consumer, we’re moving away from the age of interruption – built on the ad break and the 30-second spot – to the age of engagement. At the crudest level, that means ‘product placement’ but there are other ways to be involved in production and branded entertainment.”

Hence the arrival of Kate Marsh this month to head up the European arm of MindShare Entertainment, the agency’s branded-content division. Marsh has come from BSkyB, where she was deputy director of broadcasting and production. She’s just spent three years in Italy setting up channels for Sky Italia, such as Fox Life and Sky Vivo. Before that she was at the BBC, where she was a Radio 1 editor, and head of lifestyle and features.

“It’s a really exciting opportunity to be in at the start of something really innovative,” she says. “I can bring broadcasting and production knowledge to the advertising world, and I hope I’ll learn something about advertising.”

Marsh is not the first TV programme executive to join MindShare. Two years ago, Proctor hired head of CBS Entertainment in the US, Peter Tortorici, as president of MindShare Entertainment. Since then MindShare has built a relationship with the ABC network, based around two shows. The first, Extreme Home Makeover, is a factual entertainment show in which a rundown home is renovated. It is produced by MindShare on behalf of retailer Sears, which gets its products featured in the home. The second, The Days, is a soap opera, funded by Sears and another MindShare client, Unilever – harking back to the early days of commercial TV when advertisers funded programmes directly.

“The Days is a financial play for us, an investment,” says Proctor. “We get it onto the network in return for advertising slots and it brings in the right sort of audience. It’s a risk, but we get better financial value than if we simply bought slots.”

Extreme Home Makeover is a product placement show – but Proctor says it offers far more value to its clients than that. “It stimulates the home improvement market, which creates extra sales. It’s very good for staff morale because many of them are featured in it, and there’s a feel-good factor when the rundown home is restored. And it also helps develop new product lines.”

Marsh will be looking to develop similar properties in Europe, though she and Proctor say it will begin slowly, working with one or two clients as they test the water. The European Commission has proposed relaxations in the strict regulations on product placement and other advertiser-funded ventures, but it’s still early days.

Proctor sees another big theme in the new media world – the importance of marketing. “People can now access content when and where they want, so broadcasters need to market that content much more strongly. And I believe that it’s the content, not the channel, that is crucial – the BBC should be marketing individual programmes, not networks like Radio 4.”

All this chimes closely with remarks by Channel 4 chief executive Andy Duncan last week at the Oxford Media Convention. He said he had almost doubled Channel 4’s network marketing budget to &£50m. He’s also turning Channel 4 into a multi-platform, multi-media company, focused primarily on young audiences and strongly branded under the 4 label. After Film Four, E4 and the teenage segment T4, he’s launched More4 on digital TV and 4Docs on the internet, soon to be supplemented by 4Laughs.

Last Friday Channel 4 launched its first podcast, a documentary about cannabis and the young by Jon Snow. It also ran on Oneword, the digital radio station in which Channel 4 took a 51 per cent stake last year.

Duncan also announced perhaps his most audacious plan – a bid for the next digital radio multiplex, so Channel 4 can challenge BBC Radio in the areas of news, current affairs, comedy and entertainment.

No doubt Marsh, with her Radio 1 background, will be on the phone.

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