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Mobile TV will come of age in 2012

Convention would have me begin this column with a glittering array of predictions for the year ahead, safe in the knowledge that come the end of the year, no-one will remember enough to hold me to account.

It’s a useful tradition for columnists wearily filing their January column in late December when everyone else has given up work and we’re too hungover to be searingly original.

This year, though, there’s one forecast I’m declaring with confidence and a clear head: 2012 will be the year that television, and television advertising, will finally and fully break free from the box in the corner of the nation’s living rooms and go mobile.

It’s happening already, of course, but our business models and the semantics of our industry haven’t quite caught up. Now the transition from the TV set to TV on the move is speeding up and broadcasters and brands are beginning to re-gear their approach to content creation and dissemination.

TV is travelling, via laptops, tablets and smartphones. Watching TV on devices that allow for interaction means content creators can enhance their products with new layers of information, gamification and community creation. You’ve only got to look at the Zeebox app to see how much more it’s possible to add to the TV viewing experience. And that’s only one example.

For advertisers, mobile TV means opportunities to unshackle from the 30-second slot. Advertisers still want – and need – to follow the big audiences that quality TV content can deliver. But breaking free from the old TV schedules means more flexibility to produce richer commercial content: longer ads, interactive ads, transactional ads. And mobile TV also allows brands to reach consumers when they’re more likely to be in a purchasing frame of mind.

All of this requires investment and a degree of risk. There will need to be experimentation and exploration to understand what works best and where and how audiences respond across different devices. The old certainties of who’s seeing your show or ad and when, already disrupted by timeshifted viewing patterns and on-demand TV, will crumble further.

On the other hand, interaction will open up new opportunities to track individual viewing and engage one-to-one. It’s exciting stuff and enough to overthrow that other New Year convention: the January Blues. Good luck with making the most of 2012.
Claire Beale is editor of Campaign


Posted 10 January 2012 by Claire Beale

TV airtime buyers start to scent blood

September in adland brings the first scent of war. TV airtime buyers and sellers start to circle each other warily, sizing up budgets and egos ahead of the autumn negotiating battle.

And this is set to be one of the most dramatic TV trading seasons for years; the big three commercial broadcasters have all changed their sales commandos and a new era of TV advertising is about to begin.

Not surprisingly observers are gleefully anticipating some serious bloody noses as the old-style, experienced media buyers take on some of these new-comers.

In ITV’s corner is Kelly Williams, the former sales chief of Channel 5, now in charge of the biggest single inventory of advertising airtime in the TV market. Over at Channel 4, there’s also a new sales leader. This time, though it’s one without any TV trading experience. Jonathan Allen has come from a media agency, OMD, and thrust into the trading ring without Channel 4’s old audience bankers like Big Brother and Glee, Allen looks vulnerable. Brutish TV buyers think they can smell blood. Channel 5’s new commercial commander is Nick Bampton. He used to do the deals for Viacom and probably best reflects the sort of television salesman that all of the broadcasters are now looking for: a creative commercial animal with license to consider commercial packages across a multi-media portfolio.

With ad revenues stalling again, down around 3% in July and August, the TV companies are keen to try new sorts of commercial relationships with brand advertisers that combine broadcast airtime, sponsorship, product placement and on-line advertising in a new breed of commercial package.

The trouble is, say some, that the TV buyers aren’t necessarily quite so keen on this type of multi-faceted deal if it takes their eye off the vital airtime price equation. The buyers are tasked with getting the best discount off the base market price of TV airtime and they’ll fight mean to get it.

Though it’s certainly true that advertisers are looking for more creative commercial opportunities that work across platforms, traditional TV airtime is still king. TV’s new Davids entering the negotiation ring this season may find real victory eludes them for quite some time.

Claire Beale is edItor of Campaign

Posted 21 September 2011 by Claire Beale

Unilever's roster disaster

As Einstein said, "Everything that is really great and inspiring is created by the individual who can labour in freedom." If only someone would tell Unilever.

Unilever is one of the world's biggest advertisers. So it's also one of the world's biggest users of production companies. But it's about to introduce a new system that some production companies reckon will reduce competition and choice in their sector.

Unilever's plan is to create a roster of preferred production companies, so that every TV commercial will probably be produced by one of the handful of approved suppliers. Three will be asked to quote for each of Unilever's commercial tasks. Two of those three companies will be on Unilever's production roster, so chances are that the roster firms will get most of the jobs. Either way, cost rather than creative resource will be key.

So bang goes the creative freedom previously enjoyed by its agencies to choose the best director and production company to bring the script to life, though Unilever insists that its ad agencies will help select which companies make it onto the roster.

"Creativity, quality, consistency and best-practice," are the drivers, Unilever insists. But the roster route hints at a continued suspicion from the client community that production costs are consistently marked up and that rigorous cost-controls are not applied to every commercial shoot.

Not surprisingly ad agencies fear the roster system could blunt creativity by locking down the freedom to choose from the widest possible selection of directors. And agencies will lose the volume discounts they can currently enjoy from using their own preferred production suppliers.

For production companies themselves, the roster system represents a triumph of price over value. Buying directing talent cannot be costed in the same way clients might cost their paperclip suppliers.

Other big TV advertisers will be watching with interest and there's no doubt others will follow suit with their own production rosters. For the chosen production companies this could mean a degree of security that will allow more confident investment in fresh production talent. But for those that don't make the grade, life could start looking rather more limited. Einstein wouldn't approve.

Claire Beale is editor of Campaign

Posted 18 May 2011 by Claire Beale

Clearing TV of ad clutter

Anyone who knows anything about the way TV advertising airtime is bought and sold knows it needs a clean-up. TV trading is about as transparent as a thick brick wall and every bit as impenetrable. The only people who really understand how the TV ad market works are the people who do the buying and selling of airtime. And for the most part they're a band of brothers as tight-knit and hard to fathom as a fringe religious cult.

So you can't blame the House of Lords for figuring the whole airtime trading mechanic is due for an overhaul. And what an overhaul they're proposing, one that could throw the whole television advertising ecosystem into shock.

The Lords want to reduce the amount of advertising that put-upon TV viewers have to endure. While ITV, C4 and C5 can stick with their average of seven minutes an hour (rising to a max of eight minutes in peak time), satellite channels will have to reduce their ads from nine minutes per hour (with a maximum 12 minutes in peak). According to the Lords Communications Committee, it's time to put viewer's interests first.
Depending where you sit in the TV ecology, putting the viewers' interests first might not be good news. For the satellite channels, less commercial minutage means they have less inventory to sell to advertisers, so the price of the average satellite ad spot will rise to compensate. That will arguably make satellite less attractive to advertisers.

So it's not looking so good for satellite then, this whole minutage thing. Nor for advertisers, who can expect the price of TV advertising to rise by up to 15 per cent under the Lord's proposals.

If you're looking for an upside, let me offer you one. The Lords' recommendations would mean a lot less advertising clutter. And no-one - particularly the advertisers themselves - like advertising clutter. Too many ads in too many breaks mean viewers are more likely to switch off, sometimes literally. Fewer ads will mean more impact for the ads that are shown. And fewer ad breaks will make for a more positive viewing experience all round. All the broadcasters need to do now is make sure the programmes are good enough to keep advertisers and viewers coming back.

Claire Beale is editor of Campaign

Posted 11 March 2011 by Claire Beale

BBC and Red Bee - too cosy?

Of course, the last thing the BBC needs right now is another volley of accusations that it is wasting licence-payers' money.

In the midst of the most savage cuts the Corporation has ever seen, any suggestion that due diligence is not being paid to all aspects of BBC spending is as unwelcome as a football commentator at a Fawcett Society drinks party.

But the UK commercials production industry will not be silenced, stepping up their campaign against the BBC's cosy relationship with Red Bee Media, and are taking it to the Commons in a bid for justice.

I've written here before about the dispute. To recap briefly, Red Bee used to be the BBC's inhouse commercials production facility, and it regularly borrowed talent from the independent sector - for free - to direct its work. Then back in 2005 the BBC sold the facility to Australian Bank Macquarie and as part of the deal granted Red Bee an exclusive 10-year contract to produce the vast majority of the BBC's commercials. Oh, and it still expected independent production companies to supply their directors for free.

The Advertising Producers Association has been arguing vociferously that the arrangement is anti-competitive, claiming that it effectively allows the BBC to create a monopoly for its on-air promotions. Most of the APA's members now refuse to lend the BBC their directors, but they still don't get a chance to pitch for BBC business. And they've had enough.

Now the APA has called on the National Audit Office to investigate whether the Red Bee deal really does - as the BBC continues to argue, though without producing any evidence - represent value for licence-fee payers' money. MPs are being lined up to ask questions in the commons about the Red Bee monopoly, and as you might imagine there's no shortage of politicians keen to find another stick with which to beat the BBC.

It's an important cause for the UK's small, entrepreneurial but struggling commercials production sector. And it's a matter of principle that should be important to the wider creative community, which relies on contracts with the Beeb to help fund the nurturing of new talent. Let's hope that the issue doesn't get buried by the general upheaval taking place over at Broadcasting House.

Claire Beale is editor of Campaign

Posted 11 February 2011 by Claire Beale

Product placement cheer

I admit I was going to take the easy option and give you a New Year’s column full of spurious punditry predictions that you will have forgotten long before I can ever be held to account for them.

But the turn of a new year seems to demand something more concrete, particularly since 2011 must be a year for seizing every opportunity that dares to present itself.

Thankfully the production industry doesn’t have long to wait before the year’s big opportunity rears. Ofcom is allowing product placement on British TV screens from the end of February, and if you believe the men with calculators that could mean a new revenue stream of up to £150m a year. That’s quite some opportunity, particularly since it comes off the back of a 14% boost in TV ad spend in 2010.

But as the new product placement rules sweep in, confusion abounds. Who will make the money? ITV is keen to promote product placement in those shows that it produces itself, so that there’s no question of sharing the booty with an independent producer.

And, of course, ITV already has established relationships with the media buying agencies that can incorporate product placement deals into overall airtime trading negotiations.

So for indies, product placement demands a new etiquette on how the money will be split between producer and broadcaster.

As yet there seems to be little firm policy, so expect the new year to kick off with a scramble to negotiate terms. But what’s pretty clear to anyone with an eye on the ad market is that the dawn of (official) product placement won’t see advertisers suddenly adding millions to their budgets in order to take advantage of the new rules. Any money spent on getting their brands into the fabric of the programmes will simply be creamed from their existing advertising pot.

But I feel compelled to begin the new year on as positive a note as possible, so let me conclude with one prediction. Product placement will make TV a more attractive commercial proposition compared to other media. If advertisers are going to cream the top off ad budgets to fund product placement, it might just be their press, radio or outdoor ad budgets that suffer. Which sounds like a happy new year for TV.

Claire Beale is editor of Campaign

Posted 14 January 2011 by Claire Beale

The rise of event ads

As the advertising industry drags another tough year to a close it would be nice to think that despite all the budget squeezes, all the cost efficiencies, all the compromises, the ads themselves, at least, are something to be proud of.

But let's be honest. 2010 hasn't been adland's greatest creative moment. Not at all. It may be industry lore that a recession sparks a creative surge, but so far this time round there's little in the advertising portfolio to keep the lore alive.



There is reason for seasonal cheer, though. And it's all thanks to the rise and rise of a broadcasting phenomenon that has given television a new pull on advertisers' budgets and has made adland creatives fall back in love with the medium all over again.



The event ad break. We've always had them: half time in the big football match, the soap cliff hanger, the reality show showdown. Big shows with big audiences have always commanded an advertising premium; it's ITV's banker positioning. But now advertisers are taking appointment-to-view TV onto a new level, leveraging the cultural grip of an X Factor or a Downton Abbey to create showcase ad breaks.
And it's all being super-charged by social media. Now viewers are as likely to tweet about the new Yeo Valley blockbuster ad (those rapping farmers) by Bartle Bogle Hegarty, running exclusively in The X Factor breaks, as they are about Simon Cowell's snipes.

Event television is fostering event advertising. America's Super Bowl ad frenzy, when big brands spend millions of dollars on ads to run specially during the Super Bowl ad breaks (usually the most expensive and entertaining ads on US TV), is catching on over here.

With the news that ITV could take up to £25m from The X Factor's final weekend (that's about £250k per 30 second spot), it's clear that advertisers here are eager to take advantage of the audience surge.



The good news for ad agencies and production companies is that this new advertising showcase is likely to mean a boost in production budgets as more advertisers design blockbuster commercials especially tailored to run in such high profile slots. And with any luck the new super breaks will inspire a whole new creative renaissance. Now all we have to hope is that ITV can keep the event programming up.

Claire Beale is editor of Campaign

Posted 09 December 2010 by Claire Beale

Is advertising's golden age over?

Perhaps you read about the lavish party that Saatchi & Saatchi recently threw for its 40th birthday. Surely you saw the pictures: a frail Margaret Thatcher clutching at John Major. Andrew Lloyd Webber, Bob Geldof, David Hare.

As the champagne flowed and the topless women shimmied, the last thirty years melted away. It was a good party. The media went mad for it. And it plays to our idea of what advertising should be: sexy, glamorous, a little bit decadent. With all that creativity, of course things get a little wild sometimes.

Except, of course, that the Saatchi party was like one of those club nights when everyone dresses up in billowing white shirts and dances to Duran Duran: a step back in time, a brief flirtation with a bygone era before crashing back to reality with a hangover.

Somewhere along the way, advertising stopped being glamorous, stopped being sexy, stopped, even, being very much fun.

And with it advertising agencies stopped being the purveyors of alchemical brand transformations and became suppliers of a commodity characterized as much by the price charged as the job done.

They lost their stature as business partners and – until the arrival of Mad Men on our TV screens – the industry fell out of the media spotlight.

Does this sound familiar? Has the production industry undergone a similar redaction, with cost over-taking quality as the key definer of client relationships? At its worst, my sources tell me, too right it has. There’s no sign things will improve any time soon. Or ever.

Last week I interviewed one of the country’s biggest advertisers. Off the record – ‘we don’t want to induce panic before we’re ready to handle it’ – they told me that what and how they pay for advertising will soon undergo dramatic overhaul. I didn’t come away confident they would be spending more money.

So should our creative services industries accept that their golden age is over? I hope not. Because if we do then we stop championing creativity, creativity that cannot be costed at lowest-bidder price. And we accept that our jobs will be less fulfilling and rewarding. And, yes, less glamorous and less fun.

Posted 05 October 2010 by Claire Beale
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