CAMPAIGN-I: Spotlight on BBCMediaArc - BMPtvi deal shows the paucity of UK interactive TV advertising. MediaArc may be a big fish but it swims in a very small pond, Alasdair Reid writes

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

bottoms.



"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

now.



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

all."



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

changing.



This agreement is not confined to a narrow ad agency-production company

relationship.



"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

consultancy."



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."