Channel 4 TV Planning Awards 2005: Where planning meets buying

Channel 4's TV Planning Awards aim to recognise creative planning that resists the growing commoditisation of airtime. Ian Darby reports.

The Channel 4 TV Planning Awards are now in their third year. Their aim - to reward creativity and innovation in the planning of TV campaigns - was never more relevant.

Media trends have affected potential entries for the awards since launch.

On the one hand, technological advances in TV and the proliferation of multichannel opportunities have brought new options to advertisers and agencies. On the other, agency deals and the increased commoditisation of the media market can often work against creativity in TV.

While the brainchild of Channel 4, the TV Planning Awards seek to reward TV activity across all broadcasters. Mike Parker, the head of strategic sales and commercial marketing at Channel 4, was heavily involved in the awards' inception. He emphasises that a key aim of the awards is to recognise where strong planning meets well-executed buying: "Putting TV on the media schedule is clearly what media planners do, but there is a big role for creativity in buying. The role of buyers in using TV in a creative way is very important."

Sitting in Channel 4's impressive Horseferry Road offices, with activity all around, it is easy to forget the difficulties involved in creating and implementing innovative TV activity. As Parker points out: "Part of the battle is against a commoditised media world where agency deals and share deals can affect things. It can be difficult for agencies to do things in a creative way when agency and share deals are in place, but the plethora of good award entries shows it's not impossible."

Yet greater segmentation of channels, with specific programming targeted at specific audiences has provided new vistas for agencies. Just a quick look at the major broadcasters (Channel 4 has E4 and More4, ITV its three-pronged multichannel offer) shows how the market has evolved to provide targeted digital TV channels.

Interactive and mobile applications have further increased the potential for getting closer to the viewer. Parker argues that while response rates from interactive "red button" commercials could improve with more tailored creative, mobile technology is providing planners with new opportunities.

He says: "Mobile is an interesting category. Linked with television, press or outdoor, you can download information straightaway - you see an ad on TV, find the information on your phone and then book something like a cinema ticket."

This "call to action"-type campaign is just one example of the use of mobile. Increasingly throughout 2005, mobile technology was used to provide extra entertainment content on the back of TV ads.

Yet less technology-led activity can also scoop awards. Parker points to the growing sophistication of sponsorship opportunities. "Sponsorship is a key part of television planning," he explains. "Segmentation of audiences through programming lends itself really well to sponsorship, and a brand and a show can now be matched incredibly well."

This trend towards sponsorship may also be partly driven by potential ad avoidance through personal video recorder technology. Some believe this will put a greater emphasis on sponsorship idents, because some PVR viewers skip through traditional spot ads. Ofcom changes to the length of sponsorship bumpers could also help drive its growth.

The rise of broadcast sponsorship helped give birth to specialist strategic sales units within broadcasters. The majority of large TV sales operations (ITV, Channel 4, ids, Sky etc) now have these in-house teams to look beyond spot advertising.

And it's not just sponsorship that is providing opportunities. "Increasingly, advertisers are looking for cross-platform activity, interactivity, mobile technology or sponsorship. Integrated, cross-platform solutions are good for advertisers but should not be a goal in their own right," Parker says.

Channel 4's attempt to promote the TV medium through the TV Planning Awards has coincided neatly with the wider TV industry marketing initiative, Thinkbox.

Parker believes Thinkbox has made a solid start. "Thinkbox is providing reassurance to advertisers," he says. "Technological change has been at its fastest pace in TV history and things will look very different in five years. Thinkbox is there to give advertisers and planners confidence that TV still has an enormous reach and can do a whole range of things as part of an integrated strategy."