Most of the coverage of the deal between BMPtvi and BBC MediaArc
last week was tediously predictable. It's remarkably easy to press the
buttons of even the most supposedly grown-up newspapers these days when
it comes to the commercial TV sector - and in particular the BBC's
involvement in it.
When Auntie is discovered flirting with oiks and barrow boys you can
sense sub-editors quivering with barely suppressed indignation and the
headlines are clearly written by maiden aunts with mouths like cat's
"BBC goes into advertising" read one shocked heading.
No it doesn't, actually. Wrong tense. The BBC - or rather some units
within the coalition of very different operations that makes up the BBC
tribe these days - has been into advertising for a very long time
It's been indulging in a bizarre balancing act for a decade at least,
but most reports had to point out that the fruits of this latest joint
venture - digital interactive TV content - won't be appearing on BBC1 or
BBC2. What? Really?
Sometimes, even hardened optimists have to admit that the digital
interactive TV revolution is going to be a very hard slog indeed. And
the BMPtvi-MediaArc deal underlines that point. The heart of the matter
was unwittingly broached by a commentator from BBH last week. He seemed
to be implying that clients who wanted interactive commercials
production would and should find the most appropriate expertise within
the existing commercials production sector.
Good point. In a perfect world, interactive commercials production would
mirror conventional commercials production. The agency creative
department would develop a campaign idea to the point where it would be
time to think of how it should be shot and then they'd go out and find
the right production company.
But this isn't a perfect world. And MediaArc is, remember, a division of
the BBC's commercially-constituted facilities arm, BBC Resources, and is
a design and production company with a considerable track record in the
commercial sector. It has expertise in TV idents and website
construction as well as interactive content. It produced what many
regarded as pioneering work for HSBC, one of the advertisers with the
biggest presence in Open's interactive domain. And, as it happens, one
of Open's founding shareholders.
The sobering fact is that MediaArc is a very big fish in a very small
pond. Much smaller than most of us realised. The partnership, after all,
is the result of an extensive pitch process undertaken by BMPtvi.
Andy Davy, Media Arc's director, explains: "We've actually done work on
all three platforms (cable, terrestrial and satellite) and that's not an
easy task. That reflects a BBC policy of being on all platforms. We have
been talking not just to BMP but other agencies about working more
closely on a range of projects. BMP was looking for a partner and, after
holding a beauty contest, it went with us. They will work with us
exclusively for a year."
Is the deal - especially the fact that BMP is willing to tie itself
exclusively to MediaArc - evidence of the poverty of expertise in this
sector? There are some who take issue with this. For instance
Static2358, a digital production company that is actually a media owner
in its own right. Its games channel, Playjam, is one of the most visited
destinations in the digital environment. Colin Cardwell, Static's ad
sales manager, comments: "Gaming content is the most complex content to
develop and we have been developing it for all platforms. So
cross-platform expertise is by no means unique."
But some observers concede that a good track record in producing content
across all platforms remains rare. Despite all the talk there's been
about interactive production forums and educating the marketplace, there
are few real contenders out there.
Andrew Howells, BMPtvi's managing director, states: "We spent a long
time looking at other production companies and the conclusion that we
came to is that the MediaArc is well placed to help us achieve what we
want. There are companies who can do bits of this but MediaArc can do it
Howells agrees that if the market matures there would be no sense in
being tied to just MediaArc. But he adds that the rules are
This agreement is not confined to a narrow ad agency-production company
"The truth is that the interactive TV advertising market has stalled and
there's not a great amount of business out there in any case. So we can
see our role evolving. We are positioning ourselves as an interactive
That consultancy role could embrace a number of issues. Other
broadcasters approaching the BBC for advice on general digital issues
could be referred via MediaArc to BMPtvi to give advice on the issues
involved in developing advertiser domains.
In fact, it's already working with a media owner - MTV3 in Finland
(nothing to do with music TV: it's the country's top commercial
channel). MTV3 was referred via the Omnicom international network - but
that's not the point, it's media owner consultancy work. Howells
concludes: "The UK is the most advanced digital TV market in the world
so media owners from elsewhere will be interested in what we have to
say. We can enrich the picture for them."