Media owners go global in battle royal for audiences
A view from Gideon Spanier

Media owners go global in battle royal for audiences

The advertising industry is used to brutal battles between sprawling empires, laced with personal rivalry and dynastic intrigue, so it is fitting that Game Of Thrones has captured the imagination of media folk.

This week’s launch of the sixth series of the drama has been a global event, with simultaneous broadcasts in 196 countries, led by the US, the UK and Australia. Last year, series five was simulcast in 196 countries and territories.

The Game Of Thrones roll-out is a sign of the way that not only the TV industry but also the wider media business is shifting to become more international in a world of instant communication across borders.

Media people have talked about globalisation for years, but it takes a long time for reality to catch up with theory.

In practical terms, that means content creators and media owners having international distribution platforms and rights deals in place – and, of course, must-see content that can appeal to vast audiences.

Advertisers have faced similar challenges. It has been difficult to run a campaign in multiple countries simultaneously because most media owners and platforms have not had the scale or infrastructure to cope.

There’s also concern about whether a campaign will work in different markets – each with its own dynamic. Then there’s regional politics, meaning brands often hold budgets locally and use different media agencies.

However, the rise of the global tech platforms, led by Google and Facebook, is changing the game because it is forcing advertisers to think, at least, about the potential of international campaigns. There is an undeniable logic about global brands, which use global media agency groups, wanting global reach. It’s why traditional media owners and telecoms operators, from Sky and Discovery to Vodafone and Verizon, know they need to scale up.

Sky, which merged its UK and Ireland operation with sister businesses in Italy, Germany and Austria in 2014, is beginning to make good on some of that promise. It has been striking pan-European content deals to cover all its key markets – most recently with the Hollywood studio Sony Pictures – and its ad sales arm, Sky Media, has agreed its first pan-European ad campaign with DHL.

The fact that Sky Media hasn’t done a deal like this until now is proof that there hasn’t been much demand from clients, but we can expect that to change as Sky makes better use of its international reach.

One issue for advertisers is that much of the best TV content is moving to a subscription model (think Netflix, Amazon, HBO), where the ads are often secondary, if allowed at all. But whenever there is an audience, advertisers will always fight to reach it. The success of Games Of Thrones shows this battle is going global.