Media Perspective: Lessons for media agencies wanting to make programmes

I was one of the 60 million people who didn't get round to watching Channel 5's Don't Stop Believing, a talent show fronted by Emma Bunton and co-produced by Shine TV and WPP's Group M Entertainment.

Billed as a "summer extravaganza" and "an amazing entertainment spectacle", the series proved to be neither of these things as viewers realised that they either didn't want yet another talent show in their viewing repertoire or found this UK version of a Glee/X Factor car crash a little too distressing. While it debuted with a respectable audience in excess of 1.4 million, this quickly fell away to just over 800,000, despite extensive marketing.

That said, I'm much more interested in watching what might be an "autumn extravaganza" develop given that Shine M has appointed lawyers to recover money it claims Channel 5's new owner, Northern & Shell, owes it in unpaid bills. Elisabeth Murdoch's Shine TV claims that as well as wanting the money it believes it is due, it is making the stand for all the smaller independent production companies it says are seeing their terms of trade changed. Group M Entertainment is also thought to be one of the creditors.

While Don't Stop Believing clearly wasn't aimed at people like me, at least it showed that rather than complaining about the quality of output on offer from a channel (and in this case, Channel 5 was strapped for programming cash and was in the process of being offloaded by RTL), a media agency was trying to move its business into a more interesting space that, on paper, was beneficial to it, to its clients and to the broadcaster.

As well as co-producing and funding the six-part series - and neatly providing one of its clients Argos as a sponsor - Group M Entertainment could further exploit the series internationally. Indeed, it has been reported that Australia's Channel Ten has bought the rights to show it.

Channel 5 needed some new programming; it didn't have the cash but Group M, which pools together advertisers' money from MediaCom, MEC, Mindshare and Maxus, did. In exchange, Channel 5 marketed the programme and, it is assumed, gave Group M a chunk of commercial airtime in return. Sounds like a perfect solution - two needs fulfilled. Sadly, it bombed and the consequences of this look like being played out in court.

While the terms of the deal are not clear - and Group M Entertainment has not been particularly forthcoming with what, if anything, it wants from Channel 5 - there are lessons for agencies that are trying to get into making programmes, an area that is set to continue to grow as broadcasters seek to cut their reliance on advertising money paying for programming. The key one seems to be: just because you can, doesn't mean you should. Which almost sounds like a song itself.


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