Kate Bulkley, Media Analyst.

C4 takes the short route to PP

By Kate Bulkley

Broadcast News

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For Broadcast April 25, 2013

Branded content for mobiles looks like a win-win, says Kate Bulkley

*Is short the new long? It’s great to have many hours of programming, but swap hours for minutes, use brands to fund shows, target mobiles and VoD as your first ‘broadcast’ outlet, and suddenly short-form TV looks pretty sexy. Channel 4 has always claimed to be an innovator and is now pushing the accelerator on the short, with its commercial department promising two or three brand-funded short-form programmes in the third quarter of this year, with plans to double that number soon after.

Short-form content is usually two to five minutes long; it can cost around £50,000 to make; and it can go viral with, say, another £250,000 spent on promotion.

That’s a modicum of what it costs to make a full scale TV programme, plus the short can also seed new ideas that might develop into longer-form shows.

At the same time, C4 believes that product placement is now at a tipping point. Brand partnerships lead Robert Ramsey says: “We’re in year two of product placement in the UK and we now have examples, the research and a level of expertise that give us confidence we can make this a much bigger revenue generator.”

C4 has form with shorts and branded content – for example, the Rimmel-funded make-up tips for the Made In Chelsea stars. The growth of smartphones as a TV viewing device is also piquing brands’ interest in creating mobile-friendly, shorter-form content. Mobile advertising spend rose to £526m in 2012 from £203m in 2011, a gain of 148% year on year, according to the Internet Advertising Bureau 2012 Digital Adspend Report.

But short-form isn’t all the brand partnership team is up to: more product placement deals are on the cards, such as showcasing Unilever products on Hollyoaks. There are discussions around signing up a contactless-payments brand for the soap as well.

Meanwhile, C4’s six-week-old daytime live cooking show What’s Cooking? From The Sainsbury’s Kitchen has been holding its slot, attracting a ‘newer, younger audience’. Most of the funding for the Superhero TV-made shows comes from Sainsbury’s, but C4 also has ‘skin in the game’ on the money side, which “keeps everyone interested”, according to Ramsey.

Last year, C4 commissioned The Endless Winter, a 3 x 30-minute show about two surfers on a UK road trip in a Ford S-Max. It came about after C4 had watched a couple of shorts posted online by agency Ogilvy.

The broadcaster wanted some changes, such as a more C4-friendly voiceover artist, but the car remained the star of the show. It was a hit on social media (1.7 million interactions) and on 4oD (2.7 million views). But for the brand, the biggest plus was that sales of the car increased by 11% in a year, with no additional above-the-line ad spend.

“There’s a lot of surf porn out there, but it’s not what we wanted,” says Ramsey. “Endless Winter had heart and narrative, and a story that people could buy in to.”

As product placement becomes more sophisticated and acceptable to audiences, we are going to see more of it. If producers and broadcasters can make it look and feel as good as non-brand-funded TV, that will be the time when they really are riding the right wave.

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