MEDIA FORUM: Do more channels mean more profit from music?

It had to happen. Rock and roll is the new rock and roll. But are media owners getting the most from their music audiences?

Music TV is one of television's biggest recent growth areas. Not so long ago, you'd be lucky to get MTV and its more sedate sibling, VH1, on your basic subscription tier. Now if you stray into that zone in the electronic programme guide between lifestyle and sport, you find yourself in an impressively expansive territory inhabited on the one hand by a whole host of MTV sub-brands and on the other by magazine spin-offs such as Kerrang! and Smash Hits.

And it remains a fruitful area, clearly - despite the downturn. There are rumoured to be several new ventures either imminent or at the planning stage, and last week there was even news of a radio brand preparing an extension on to the small screen. OK, so Classic FM is not quite the most happening music property the world has ever seen, but the latest initiative is clearly part of a trend.

Music is on a roll. But can it last? After all, this might just have all the hallmarks of a bubble. There has to be a limit to how many niche music channels the market can support. And it's doubly certain that there has to be a limit to the number of samey mainstream music channels with bland, uninspired formats and tired old video clips of faded hits that the market can support.

So, just how are these channels doing? And in the case of brand extensions - such as the Emap music channels - is there much potential for packaging up multiplatform sales opportunities? Are advertisers likely to go for it? How does it work? Are these channels carefully targeted by planners and buyers? Or are they just another source of commodity ratings against the 16-24 demographic?

Dave King, the managing director of Emap Advertising, says that when you take a magazine on to TV you can bring several advantages with you.

He comments: "For instance, a strong heritage, a respect from the consumer and an understanding of what you are about. So you don't have to start from scratch in terms of marketing - you're doing exactly what it says on the tin. When you go on to Sky and cable you are talking about ten million homes, so you are taking awareness of the brand to a far wider audience."

And, he adds, there's a neat combination of factors at play here - start-up costs are low but production values are just about as high as you can get. That's largely because 90 per cent of your content, the music videos, are supplied gratis by the music companies, who tend not to scrimp on production values. On the other hand, it's material that's not exactly exclusive to any one channel. Doesn't that in itself undermine the whole notion of keeping a magazine's brand integrity intact as it transfers to the small screen?

King has an answer for that: "There's a lot of station branding outside of videos. There are intros and promotions and don't forget that branding is inherent in the music that you play. You'll find very different things on Q and Kerrang!."

The proposition is, in theory, pretty lucrative for media owners. It's not just about spot revenues. Promotions can be nice little earners if you get people to respond via texting or phone. And by their very existence, these stations drive subscriptions and copy sales of the magazines themselves.

But how does it play as an opportunity for advertisers? "There is a distinct media advantage in taking your target audience on to TV," King says. "It's obviously a larger proposition - a similar but not identical audience. We don't force the brand on anyone.

What we offer is effectively a menu. You can buy TV or the magazine, or you can have both, and our relationship with Sky (which sells airtime on the Emap music channels) is such that we can offer bespoke solutions.

If you look at what, for instance, Smarties has done, it has a huge relationship with Smash Hits and is able to follow the core audience across all the media it uses - the internet, radio, SMS, the magazine, the poll-winners party and the tour leading up to it."

One brand that has done a cross-platform deal is Oxy acne treatment.

It associated itself with the Smash Hits initiative, Search For a Band, a talent show that pre-dated ITV's Pop Stars. What persuaded John Blakemore, GlaxoSmith-Kline's advertising director, to go for it? Were there big discount incentives? "That certainly wasn't the main consideration," he reveals. "This sort of thing has to tick all the right boxes in terms of environment and target audience and whether it has the scale and size we want. Then we look at the added benefits. In this case it was probably ease of use. I'll have to say it all went very smoothly. We were very pleased with it."

Andrew Sherman, the deputy managing director of Media-Vest, is less convinced about how easy it is to do deals: "I think what we've found is that the different media still tend to operate separate profit-and-loss centres. Our experience to date is that they don't actively sell it."

But is it worth persevering? Are the two media perfectly compatible in planning terms? "They are different, obviously. TV tends to be promos and just promos. There's no editorial, or hardly any. They may be looking to change that and extend some of their properties and we would welcome that because it would give us more flexibility - for instance, to create promotions. But in terms of the audience mindset, ultimately, whether it's in magazines or in television, it's about appealing to people's passion for music," he adds.

But Sherman has an additional caveat: "This is an issue for creative agencies too. Their briefing systems haven't really changed much - it's still a case of taking a TV idea and seeing if you can get it into other media. It's a challenge to get creative agencies to think in other ways. They don't all perceive that there is a greater scope for creativity here."

Stephen Hall, a group account director at Manning Gott-lieb OMD, also believes that media owners could do more. There are many positives, he acknowledges: "Channels such as Q, Kerrang! and Smash Hits deliver an audience who love those brands in whatever format. And the media owners are getting smarter at selling across platforms, a bit of space here and a bit of time there, and increasingly promotions, sponsorships and spin-offs."

But, he adds, it hasn't made much difference. "We've been putting together packages of media for years, buying what we need. The majority of cross-platform selling only adds value on the periphery. The sellers are trying to charge a premium for packaging, and we won't pay it in a record market where volume and value are both down. Agencies won't rush headlong into cross-platform deals until the added value improves and it becomes more economical than buying it separately. The media owners are going to have to raise their game and offer us something really special."

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