ITV has always traded pretty effectively off the proposition that, in being able to offer huge peaktime audiences, it has a unique offering in the UK's commercial television market. The deals it strikes with advertisers and their media agencies reflect that, compared with the rest of the airtime market, ITV airtime tends to command a premium.
And within that, it has always sold specials - big programming events that have the whole nation on the edge of its collective seat, events whose airtime commands a premium on the premium. Big sporting occasions, for instance.
The network, however, could be poised to push this whole business on to an even higher level. In recent weeks, we've seen Yeo Valley running specially created ads exclusively in The X Factor. Now comes news that ITV could take up to £25 million from the show's final outings, on 11 and 12 December - that translates to £250,000 per 30- second spot.
As the two phenomena coincide - blockbuster events and specially created ads - we could be witnessing the arrival on these shores of an equivalent of the US "Super Bowl effect". It could, in theory, kick start an inspirational virtuous circle.
These showcase ads will command big production budgets and that, allied to the hype surrounding them, will encourage creativity of the highest order. Meanwhile, advertisers will be geared up to seek out (and even help to create) big TV events. Broadcasters will be willing to oblige - and will have the confidence to commit the necessary resources.
The icing on the cake is that event TV dovetails so promisingly with Twitter and Facebook activity - and that's a box that most blue-chip advertisers and media owners are desperate to tick currently. It could all add up not just to a boost for the airtime market - but also a renaissance in advertising creativity.
Kevin Brown, the director of engagement planning at Bartle Bogle Hegarty, has been responsible for developing the Yeo Valley strategy. He comments: "What successful programme brands do is provide engagement at scale - and smart advertisers can leverage that to powerful effect. Yeo Valley has achieved that recently by simply committing to one programme brand, The X Factor, and working with the broadcaster, ITV, to leverage that engagement along multiple touchpoints. A critical part of the success was creative work that harnessed that engagement."
He adds: "Effective frequency is jargon from the past. We live in a media environment where the power of the first opportunity to see is absolutely critical. While it's easier for audiences to switch off, there is also a wealth of opportunity for audiences to switch on if the content is powerful and relevant."
David Wilding, the executive planning director at PHD, agrees the "two-screen factor" (people watching on TV and Tweeting at the same time) is certainly interesting. But he reckons the market might be getting carried away with itself. He explains: "I think the Yeo Valley/X Factor thing has been clever. And yet, I still have an instinctive belief that the more intently you watch a TV event, the more you need the relief of the break to go and do something else. What you do see every year, however, is people falling in love again with The X Factor. It's a reminder of the strengths of ITV and of what it does well."
Maybe, Chris Locke, the group trading director at Starcom Media-Vest says, but there are genuinely new and powerful ways to generate a campaign buzz these days. He explains: "By definition, there's only so much event TV around. But there's also an opportunity to make smarter, braver, longer content and stick it out on the web. You can launch it on the MSN or Yahoo! homepage or on Facebook. You may only have to buy a single or a couple of TV spots. If people love an ad, they'll watch it again and again. We've been advocates of this for some time and creative agencies see a huge opportunity. They are using the web rather than Millward Brown to test ads."
And Toby Roberts, the head of strategy at OMD, agrees that something pretty interesting is starting to stir here. He concludes: "The X Factor is the sort of communal media experience that we were all assured was dead just a few short years ago. In an age of micro-targeting and the promise that wastage can be eliminated, it's fascinating to be having this discussion at all. Given the sorts of prices that are being touted around for a spot in the final, there does seem to be a recognition that more elusive metrics like fame and momentum are every bit as valuable and vital as a healthy cost-perresponse."
YES - Kevin Brown, director of engagement planning, BBH
"It's about programmes that create a cultural impact and generate social currency among an audience. Successful modern brands will need fame and participation - the Super Bowl effect and the social effect."
MAYBE - David Wilding, executive planning director, PHD
"Social media changes what you can do with event TV. I think media gets more excited by all of this than the audience itself. So I'm not entirely sure we're about to see a golden age of TV as a result."
YES - Chris Locke, group trading director, Starcom MediaVest
"By definition, there's only so much event TV around - but it's a factor of growing importance. We look at it less in terms of event TV, more in terms of event advertising. That's the opportunity."
MAYBE - Toby Roberts, head of strategy, OMD
"The X Factor is not quite the Super Bowl yet. It's a big audience, for sure, but it's not a recognised advertising showcase, and it lacks the cultural significance of the Super Bowl, which is as much a part of American life as Thanksgiving and 4 July. But it's certainly on the way."
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