It has not taken ITV long to make the most of the opportunity presented by Ofcom to provide programme sponsors with more airtime. When Ofcom's Broadcasting Code, released last month, removed the restrictions the Independent Television Commission had placed on the length of sponsorship idents allowed on terrestrial television, it opened the way for TV sponsorship to move up the agenda.
Now on ITV, the opening and closing breaks will remain the same lengths (15 seconds and five seconds respectively), but the centre breaks have been doubled from five seconds to ten seconds. The new lengths will be available from January 2006, although there is a grace period of an additional three months for existing sponsorships.
ITV is hoping that the extra time will stimulate the broadcast sponsorship market but at a time when ITV could do with all the extra revenue it can get, is the extra time merely a new way of securing more ad money? Not according to Gary Knight, the head of sponsorship and branded content at ITV Sales. He has said the price will not automatically go up, although if programme sponsorships can become more creative as a result of this change, the theory is their value will rise.
There is no doubt in the mind of Steve Henry, the executive creative director of HHCL/Red Cell, that the increased length of the idents will help creativity and enhance the effectiveness of sponsorships. "You can have a lot of fun with sponsorship idents - they can be very creative and different. I would like to see more relaxation of the rules; there should be more creative freedom. There's a genuine marketing opportunity, even if it's just ten seconds."
He also thinks the industry is not facing up to the impact personal video recorders will have on advertising. "I hope more brands will look at sponsorship," he says. "I think the advent of the PVR revolution, which will be in the next three to five years, will seriously affect the relationship between the viewer and the advertiser. If you have Sky+, even if you're in the advertising industry, you fast-forward through the ad breaks. Sponsorship idents are the signal that the ad break has finished, so the spots will be very important."
Andy Bolden, the UK media director of GlaxoSmithKline, is slightly hesitant about the extension to the sponsorship idents. "The issue is about onscreen presentation. It may be a benefit to advertisers but a detriment to whom? I want a strong ITV; I don't want it to degenerate into a series of commercial blocks. ITV's quest to offer more for advertisers could erode what consumers buy into," he says.
Bolden is less convinced of the case that PVRs will change the advertising landscape so quickly. "I think we are a way off PVRs redefining 30-second ads compared with sponsorship," he argues. "People have to look long and hard at sponsorship in the first place. TV is still the most powerful medium in the UK. You do see a lot of sponsorships and ask 'why are they doing that?' It's a very close association you're buying into."
Paul Chard, the director of sponsorship at MediaCom, is waiting to see if rival broadcasters follow ITV's suit. He says: "The other broadcasters will be looking at it but there are also revenue implications. A one-hour programme normally has three centre breaks - 30 seconds of sponsorship. Now that's going to be 60 seconds. Therefore, in a one-hour programme, ITV will give you 30 seconds-worth of sponsorship; it's not going to give it away free."
Chris Hayward, the head of TV at ZenithOptimedia, also thinks terrestrial channels will be carefully observing the consequences of ITV's announcement.
"Others will watch. If people felt ITV was genuinely attracting more money through the door and they were missing an opportunity, they would plug the gap by following suit," he says. "I'm not sure how much new money will be generated, but I do think that if interest is rekindled, then the natural assumption is that there could be some growth from sponsorship. It will not be massive, though, as there's not massive growth in the TV or broadcast market."
But one of the most significant aspects of these changes for Hayward is not how ITV has responded but the fact that Ofcom relaxed the rules in the first place. "It's a good example of the way Ofcom is working," he claims. "It has a good, sensitive touch, but is aware of commercial responsibility. It's working with common sense. It will restimulate the whole arena of sponsorship."
YES - Steve Henry, executive creative director, HHCL/Red Cell
"There's a great deal more we can do creatively with ten seconds than five seconds. PVRs are going to absolutely take over, so most ads in the middle of an ad break will be fast forwarded unless they're very good."
MAYBE - Andy Bolden, UK media director, GlaxoSmithKline
"This is ITV pushing the boundaries. It can open up parts of the audience and be more creative. It may as well do it as there's creative licence for longer time length. But we have to be mindful of how much commercialism viewers will see."
YES - Paul Chard, director of sponsorship, MediaCom
"It'll be interesting to see if the other broadcasters end up conforming. There's an implication for programme time - sponsorship comes out of programme time, not ad time, so a one-hour show loses 30 seconds."
YES - Chris Hayward, head of TV, ZenithOptimedia
"It's great news for ITV and advertisers. It gives them much more creative potential, greater reel time to get over the message and make it more powerful. It does move sponsorship forward a pace and up the priority list."
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