Media: Forum - Will Screen impress buyers?

Can Viacom, Pearl & Dean and MySpace tempt clients? By Alasdair Reid.

Cross-platform deals are not exactly new. Or, to be more accurate, the theory of the cross-platform deal is not exactly new. The reality has proved more elusive.

Like its relation, the international sell, the cross-platform deal is one of the "synergies" regularly alluded to by a multinational media conglomerate when it's about to swallow up one of its rivals.

Once the deal is done, however, the notion might be revisited a couple of times before being quietly forgotten. News Corp, for instance, has looked as this more than once or twice down the years; and there were spasms of enthusiasm for the concept following TimeWarner's merger with AOL.

The problem, in a nutshell, is that it's almost impossible to incentivise media agencies to spend their clients' money stupidly - and (in the past at least) cross-platform deals, almost by definition, tended to invite you to buy something you couldn't possibly ever want.

So last week's launch of a cross- platform package called Screen has arguably set itself a challenge. Happily, though, the participants are touting this as a first - and in one respect, they're right. Because this is a joint venture involving Viacom Brand Solutions, Pearl & Dean and MySpace.

Its rationale exists not at the level of common ownership. Instead, it focuses on the similarities in the audience profile offered by all three - its inventory will include commercial impacts derived from the audiences of MTV and the Comedy Central channels, the users of one of the top social media networks and a fair chunk of the UK cinema-going public.

As Simon Daglish, the commercial director at MySpace UK, puts it: "For customers targeting a youth audience, Screen will combine the creative talents, insights and understanding of consumers across social media, cinema and TV in a single solution, providing an unrivalled opportunity for integrated engagement."

Will this be attractive to advertisers and their agencies? Matt Simpson, the head of digital at OMD, says we're in an age when everyone talks about integration, but it happens rather less often. "So this will be of interest," he says, "especially if it takes us further towards an understanding of how we can talk to people across all aspects of their lives. We all want to understand more about what it is that is different when you talk to consumers on different platforms - or how these things work together. You can imagine someone going to the cinema, then linking up with others online who might also have seen the film."

Simon Bevan, the head of broadcast at Vizeum, agrees - but is more reserved in his enthusiasm. He explains: "Obviously we like to see media owners pooling their resources to offer the best possible solution for a particular brand, but it has to be managed properly."

That might well have been true, Howard Nead, a managing partner at PHD, concedes, yet he believes that the potential opportunities against this particular youth audience are especially interesting. "This is an audience that multitasks and might be online while they're watching TV or on internet-enabled mobile devices right up until they're told to switch them off in the cinema," he points out.

True enough, Dan Hagen, the managing partner, strategy, at MPG, responds. He's less than convinced, however - although he stresses that he doesn't want to jump to conclusions about Screen, not least because the details don't seem to have been fleshed out yet.

Yet he remains sceptical about whether it can tell the agency anything it didn't already know. He concludes: "We have been creating our own internal integration units around video, audio and the written word. This enables us to understand how to create truly integrated communications - using the best partners for our clients' briefs rather than being tied to properties owned by the media owners within a partnership. It will be interesting to see what advertiser benefits Screen brings to the table."

Got a view? E-mail us at campaign@haymarket.com

YES - Matt Simpson, head of digital, OMD

"There are advertisers who already want to go across these platforms, but the really attractive thing could be the insight it brings and the understanding of the creative opportunities it might offer."

MAYBE - Simon Bevan, head of broadcast, Vizeum

"An integrated cross-platform offer is definitely appealing. That said, it has to be sold properly. There's been lots of talk in the past but it hasn't always worked. It's a case of getting the right people around the table."

YES - Howard Nead, managing partner, PHD

"If the partners in Screen can show that a combination of messages on their channels can be more powerful than on another channel combination, we'll be happy to listen to what they say."

MAYBE - Dan Hagen, managing partner, strategy, MPG

"It will be interesting to see what advertiser benefits this brings. For smaller agencies or direct client approaches, I think this type of one-stop shop will be beneficial, but more established players will want the flexibility to build partnerships from the ground up."