Dedicated channel needs viewers too

The news that a consortium of advertisers is seeking channel capacity on satellite television should come as no surprise. Many of the country's advertisers spend an inordinate amount of time bemoaning the way they are treated by existing media owners, particularly the big TV companies.

Their complaints are not without foundation: all too often, media owners have neglected to consult with their commercial clients and have relationships that barely go beyond tussles over the price of spots and space.

Now the new Communications Act allows advertisers - and agencies, too, come to that - to become media owners in their own right. So it's hardly surprising that some clients feel they could do better at the broadcasting thing themselves. Procter & Gamble, Reckitt Benckiser and BT are among those in talks with the interactive TV specialist Zip Television about the opportunity. If successful, the consortium would have a new, more flexible outlet for the interactive ads that currently face a number of restrictions on existing channels. The fact that interactive ads have the potential to draw viewers away from the broadcast environment means broadcasters only allow one interactive ad per break, and always at the end. This is hardly ideal for constructing the sort of research and development required if interactive TV advertising is ultimately to fulfil its potential.

But is a channel managed by, and presumably dedicated to, commercial concerns really going to appeal to the viewers - those other clients that broadcasters also have to serve? Few advertisers have ever shown much time or empathy for the editorial side of broadcasting, rarely turning up to see the latest schedules unveiled and staying away from last weekend's Edinburgh Television Festival in their droves. Yet the commercial and editorial interests of the broadcasting fraternity need to work together more closely than ever before. As Steve Heyer of Coca-Cola pointed out earlier this year, the commercial value of the TV spot is losing its sheen and the smartest advertisers and agencies are looking at new ways to get into the editorial environment, either through product placement deals or advertiser-funded programming.

Any advertiser considering entry into the media owner arena will find the experience a rather lonely and unproductive one if they fail to take the viewers with them.

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