Media Forum: Is SeeSaw strategy sound?

Has the service got its advertising proposition right, Alasdair Reid asks.

At last, it has arrived. The beast formerly known as Kangaroo has made the bouncing arrival that it has been promising for, seemingly, an age. After a major regulatory stumble that held it back for a year and a "soft launch" to invited users in January, SeeSaw made its debut this week as a mainstream mass-market commercial proposition.

Its mission, according to one of its cheerleaders last week, is to "grab hold of the future and drag it into today". And the future of the small-screen moving-pictures business is, as we've been told for many months now, archive (yet another chance to see the likes of Doctor Who, Cranford and Lark Rise To Candleford) video-on-demand TV content, delivered over the internet and supported by advertising.

Cadbury, Nivea and Sainsbury's were among the first major advertisers to buy inventory on SeeSaw during its beta phase - but just about everyone in town has been talking to its ad sales people. Individual commercial broadcasters retain sales duties on the programming they've made available to SeeSaw (at this stage, Channel 4 and Five) while BBC inventory is represented by a little-known sales house, Video Initiative, a subsidiary of Media Initiatives Group.

They're touting a pretty basic proposition: when you access the content you wish to view, ads are served pretty much at random into pre-roll and mid-roll slots. In fact, some commentators have had the impertinence to wonder whether SeeSaw is destined, despite the quantum-leap claims being made for it, to inhabit a commodity bargain-bin annexe to the low-cost end of the digital TV market.

That's definitely not the way that Matt Rennie, the commercial director of SeeSaw, sees this - and he argues that the operation is taking a responsibly cautious approach where the advertising market is concerned. He says: "We simply can't say, hand on heart, that we understand what the traffic will look like. Once we've had a couple of months' traffic under our belt, we will look at it again. But, for now, we will be offering a run-of-site proposition. Let's not forget that this is a premium site with premium content. It is a high-quality proposition. And it's purely about video - there's no banner. The focus is maximised on video."

SeeSaw's sales teams hope that they will soon be able to offer advertisers the opportunity to buy into specific day-parts or programming genres. And, as viewers begin filling in survey questionnaires, it will in time be possible for agencies to plan against age, gender and geographical location.

So what does the media community think? Is SeeSaw pitching this about right? Dan Clays, the managing director of BLM Quantum, thinks that it is. He explains: "It will take a while to establish a pattern in internet VoD. The difference will be in understanding and then utilising the influence that VoD has on consumer behaviour in other channels. So my view is that people are still working this out - and I suppose they are mindful of the dangers of getting it wrong."

But David Bainbridge, MCBD's vice-chairman and a former director of marketing at the digital arm of the BBC, doesn't exactly see it that way. SeeSaw has, he believes, a limited programming line-up - ITV programming is, he argues, particularly conspicuous by its absence.

And he's by no means convinced that the operation has the right structural approach to sales. Many in the market would like to see it championing a single unified sales point - and one that has a single vision of how web-based VoD services are going to begin offering exciting new opportunities for advertisers. He says: "With the current set-up, it's hard to see where new formats or targeting will come from that will break the traditional television advertising model."

Graeme Hutcheson, the associate director, futures and implementation at MediaCom, says SeeSaw has entered the market with a great-looking product that definitely lives up to expectations. The content is good now, and with the might of its backer, Arqiva, programming will doubtless go from strength to strength. But he agrees that its fragmented sell is a worry. He concludes: "We believe that archive content, post-30 days, has less intrinsic value to an advertiser than sevento 30-day catch-up. However, if this content is packaged creatively across all media owners on SeeSaw, the value to an advertiser is far greater. For example, having the ability to place a travel advertiser around a package of relevant programming spanning BBC, Channel 4 and Five is an appealing proposition. The current sales structure does not allow for this."

YES - Matt Rennie, commercial director, SeeSaw

"We have had long and detailed conversations with all of the major advertisers, and, quite frankly, we've been blown away by the response."

YES - Dan Clays, managing director, BLM Quantum

"Broadly, we're getting the right sort of support from media owners. Everybody is passionate and supportive, and the SeeSaw people have been both proactive and mindful of the desirability of moving at a sensible pace."

NO - David Bainbridge, vice-chairman, MCBD

"SeeSaw has to be able to offer both reach and innovation to attract advertiser interest. With a new brand to build, competition from established players and a limited programming offer, it's unlikely to deliver the former in the short term."

[BX] maybe Graeme Hutcheson, associate director, MediaCom

"It doesn't exploit the potential strength an aggregator has when it is sold imaginatively by a single sales house. With big VoD players now syndicating their content to multiple locations online, it is key that a player like SeeSaw offers advertisers innovative ways of targeting their users."

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