At the Royal Television Society conference last month there were calls for "Fresh blood in the funding mix".
This felt a bit strange to me, as a panellist from the media agency sector. We have for a long time now been including branded content as a crucial part of the content and connections mix of a brand’s media plan.
Most planners now routinely consider how branded content could play a role in driving clients' objectives and outcomes. (The answer might sometimes be it can’t, but crucially, the question is usually asked).
It didn’t feel very much as though this source of "fresh blood" from the media agency sector has had much, if any impact, on the funding mix for TV based on the debates.
The Royal Television Society exists to celebrate and encourage work in TV in all fields. Its CEO Theresa Wise invited me along to participate in a panel entitled You don’t own a TV? What is all your furniture pointed at?
It is of course a time of great change.
We are on the brink of a coming together of the disrupted (the heritage television channels) and the disruptors (YouTube, Facebook etc) to create a new eco-system in television funding with new rules of thumb.
We’ve created very interesting and effective campaigns using content in this way. Scope’s #EndtheAwkward short form content in partnership with Channel 4 is just one effective campaign that would come into this category of work.
This (and there are many other examples, you will have your favourites) does not compromise the high editorial standards we expect from the channel. This campaign was great for the outcomes for the audience (very funny content), for the channel (advertiser funded short form content) and the advertiser (changed attitudes).
We know that branded content funded by an advertiser can attract additional audience to the channel too. When MediaCom partnered with Channel 4 and Google to bring the live TV performance that launched Universal Music’s Sam Smith in the UK, an additional 100,000 viewers tuned in specifically to watch the ad.
We know too that there are more brands who would spend money in this way if they could.
Why isn’t there more branded content injecting "fresh blood into the funding mix" than we’ve seen so far?
I think there are three reasons for the fresh blood merely being a trickle so far.
- Limited interest or awareness from the established creative community in making branded content. Perhaps because change is scary. Perhaps because the requirement to diversify revenue streams into unproven areas is hard to justify to the finance director. Perhaps because the awards for branded content aren’t as prestigious as the existing awards.
- Branded content is a very different process from advertising or programme making. It’s a hybrid. It can requires new rules, new ways of working. This takes effort and is hard work. Who goes on the shoot? Is the creative agency involved or is the media agency? The sophistication of a traditional advertising shoot (with big entourages of people) is alien in the lean and more agile world of content creation with YouTube. This doesn’t mean that the outcome is any less good, it might indeed be better, but the process of getting there might feel more like catching a bus than driving in a limo. You’ll get to the same place, at about the same speed, but you might not be as comfortable during the drive.
- The old rules of thumb metrics don’t apply.
Hugh Dennis ended on a cheerful note by asking the panel to predict who was going to go out of business. If we’ve learnt anything in 2016 it is not to make foolish predictions. However anyone who isn’t diversifying revenue streams needs to wake up and smell the coffee.
Sue Unerman is the chief strategy officer at MediaCom.