Kate Bulkley, Media Analyst.

Time to value brand support

By Kate Bulkley

Broadcast News

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For Broadcast December 12, 2013

Industry should conquer its fear of branded content, says Kate Bulkley

Talisker Atlantic Challenge

Christmas is a time for gifts, handouts, donations and awards – so why is the TV industry still transfixed with fear by branded content?

I’ve always believed that if content is good enough, the audience won’t mind how the producers and broadcasters got their money. Indies could sell their grandmothers for all the viewers care, as long as it means another series of their favourite show.

Branded content should be an easy win-win: the indie gets money to make a great show and the broadcaster gets the show for free. But the reality is more complicated.

A new report into advertiser-funded programming (AFP) by Sian Kevill and Alex Connock says attitudes are changing fast, especially among producers, but there is still some way to go. Connock admits there is still a reluctant “Faustian pact” when describing “the willingness of producers to compromise, especially in a recessionary environment”.

Some producers are far happier to get involved. North One was in the Canary Islands this week, shooting the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge, a rowing race funded by Diageo (which owns Talisker) in which 15 teams head to Antigua. The race is all over the web right now and some 20 broadcasters have committed to run the 2 x 30-minute specials by February next year, including Sky Sports in the UK.

In my mind, the tipping point for branded content came when Austrian skydiver Felix Baumgartner jumped out of his Red Bull Stratos-branded balloon just over a year ago. The internet – and some broadcasters who aired it as well – went wild about Felix, and the fact that Red Bull Stratos paid for the stunt made no difference to anyone.

Unilever already spends 30% of its global advertising budget on branded content, so the industry needs to understand that this type of programme funding is not going away. A Pew Research Center study estimates that $1.56bn (£950m) will be spent on sponsored content in the US this year, up 39% from 2012.

Nick Cohen, head of content at media agency Mediacom, says content creation for brands is the fastest-growing part of his business, and TV is only part of the mix. The nirvana for brands is what Cohen calls “connected planning”, so the brand message goes across a variety of devices, including mobile and PC.

The TV business needs to keep that wealth of choice in mind. Chef Jamie Oliver had a few executives squirming at the recent Channel 4 Upfronts when he put TV commissions and brand commissions on equal footing: “I basically look at brands as commissioning editors,” he said.

TV may have made Oliver famous but his YouTube-delivered Food Tube channel has opened up other opportunities that don’t have anything to do with traditional broadcasters. “If you don’t want my gear,” Oliver effectively warned the C4 crowd, “I’ve got plenty of other places to take it.”

But there’s no need for conflict. If the programme is good, the audience is respected, and the brand is transparent about its involvement, then it really can be a win-win. Perhaps level-headed collaboration on AFP can help TV and brands ring in a happy new year.

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