Talkback Thames chief executive Lorraine Heggessey has claimed that production companies have been slow to exploit the potential of ad-funded programming (MW last week), reigniting a debate that divides the industry.
Heggessey, speaking at television conference Thinkbox Experience, said: “I think AFP does have a place. We have been very slow to pick up on that as a production sector.” She said she would be keen to talk to advertisers and agencies about AFP.
But at the same event, ITV executive chairman Michael Grade made it plain that he saw no room for the involvement of ad agencies in programme creation: “We don’t tell you how to make commercials and you don’t tell us how to make programmes. Let us be clear, they are two completely different creative processes. There is a long history of editorial independence of programme makers, which viewers value.”
Grade’s comments are at odds with the commercial stance taken by ITV last summer, when it began talking to advertisers and agencies about content as an alternative to traditional spot ads. ITV was said to be in talks with advertisers including Boots, Tesco and Reckitt Benckiser and agencies including Clemmow Hornby Inge and Mother about AFP projects.
One such project, a Boots-funded anti-smoking series, has reportedly run into difficulty, with one source close to the situation insisting that while it will go ahead, there were differences of opinion between advertiser and broadcaster.
AFP on terrestrial
One media agency executive predicts we will see a prime-time AFP programme on terrestrial TV later this year. But Virgin Media Television controller of commercial partnerships Claire Heys contests that, for the moment at least, ad-funded content has a more natural home on digital channels – and that the future is co-funding.
This, she says, is because the point of entry is lower, the demographic more clearly targeted and the sales teams better equipped. “Spot and sponsorship are still a keen focus for terrestrial,” she says. “We have to try harder.”
Last month, Heys predicted that UKTV Food, part of the UKTV portfolio co-owned by the BBC, would be 20% funded by advertisers by 2010 (MW February 22).
Heys claims editorial integrity is upheld when production costs are split. An added benefit is that such shows are more likely to appear in primetime, she adds.
“We will always look to convert advertisers’ interest in making programming but we are taking some of the key trends, themes and formats that we are looking at making – and then asking them to partner us,” says Heys.
“That is the way we can ensure [series or programmes] going into peak. When an advertiser wants to make a set of objectives, they are usually not high entertainment objectives. But broadcasters really only want certain types of programmes in peak.”
That is one of the reasons broadcasters are reluctant to “step up to the plate”, according to one media executive. He claims there is a nervousness that it will detract from sponsorship and spot revenue streams, although he adds/ “There is no evidence of that.”
Another barrier to entry has always been the lack of an industry-wide measurement tool for gauging success. The Branded Content Marketing Association (BCMA) is launching an in-depth study into measurement techniques with the aim of developing such a standard for branded content. Its first feedback will not be made available until this summer, however.
Also speaking at Experience, Channel 4 chief executive Andy Duncan labelled Grade’s view “extreme”. He admitted that, although an agency “will never” be able to make a CSI or Skins series, opportunities around AFP had to be considered.
As Heys warns: “This is a commercial message through entertainment. Forget that this is entertainment at your peril.”