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November 2018

In the magazine
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  • The Facilities 50
    Jon Creamer launches Televisual's 31st exclusive annual Facilities 50 survey featuring the top post production houses in the UK and 48 pages of analysis of the sector
  • The Commercials 30
    Jon Creamer introduces Televisual’s exclusive Commercial 30 survey, reporting on a year of highs and lows for commercials producers.
  • The Drama Genre Report
    With competition from streamers intensifying, UK broadcasters are exploring new drama strategies. Tim Dams reports
  • Primary Colours
    Five leading movie colourists tell Michael Burns the secrets of their craft, and explain the techniques they use to grade movies like The Danish Girl, Peterloo and Baby Driver
  • Up, up and away!
    Thanks to advances in camera technology, the possibilities of aerial filming are greater than ever before. Pippa Considine reports on some of the year’s standout aerial projects
  • OB: Which Way Now
    The OB industry is embracing major change as it adapts to the worlds of UHD, HDR and IP. Michael Burns reports
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Commercials 30 2011 Back to Reports & survey Listing

Congratulations to Blink for taking the top spot in this year’s Commercials 30 survey after placing second last time.

It’s a big shop that looks after a roster of animation directors through Blinkink, music video specialists under Colonel Blimp and an art and design roster within Blinkart alongside its live action commercials directors. Its standout spots of the year include Benito Montorio’s Roof for VW along with his Johnnie Walker Marc Herremans ad. Other highlights include Simon Willows’ Go With the Flow spot for Mcdonald’s and the continued resonance of star director Dougal Wilson’s Always a Woman for John Lewis.

Last year’s winner, Rattling Stick, eases into second position this time after another creatively successful year with spots like Wall’s Garage by Andy McLeod, Ringan Ledwidge spots for Stella (Quest) and Puma (After Hours Athletes) and Danny Kleinman’s Diner for John Smith’s.

But despite several stand out commercials, it would be hard to argue it’s been one of the most creatively fruitful years in advertising. There are some signs at the tail end of this year that creativity and money are seeping back into commercials (see Claire Beale’s column on page 18 of this issue), but the past 12 months have seen slim pickings. The Commercials 30’s Best in Show section, where producers vote for their favourite ads, is testament to that as the top 10 contains four commercials that appeared in the top 10 ads poll last year.

Tough, challenging, 
So the last year has certainly been difficult. In fact, asked about the business climate over the last 12 months, most producers were to the point and of one mind. “Very challenging,” said Epoch; “increasingly competitive,” said Gorgeous; “much tougher this year,” said Smuggler; “very competitive,” said Tomboy; “undoubtedly tough,” said 15 Badgers; “challenging,” said Picasso; “increasingly tough,” said Hero.

The best anyone has to say is that the past year has been up and down. “Consistently inconsistent,” is Independent’s take. “It’s been very good at times, very bad at others,” echoes Joyrider while Not to Scale says the year has been “up and down like the proverbial rollercoaster. Feast and famine – all the usual clichés without the funny side.”

Holding steady
So 2011’s been a difficult year, but then again so was 2010 and the stats at least seem to show that the commercials production sector is holding relatively steady if not getting better. The average turnover of a commercials production company is now £9.5m compared to last year’s £9.7m but that drop should be held in contrast to 2009’s figure when turnover was £7.6m. The amount of jobs each company is taking on has increased slightly (reflecting a general feeling that volume was slightly up, if not budgets) to 69 from last year’s figure of 64 (the figure was 60 in 2009).

The average budget for a 30-second ad is now £171k compared to last year’s figure of £167k but that stat could be down to a few big budget ads pumping up the average as 43% of respondents felt budgets had dropped with 33% feeling they had stayed roughly the same.

The no risk option
But back to creativity, the lifeblood of the commercials production sector. As mentioned before, there are few who would argue that 2011 has been a classic year creatively. Uncertain economic times mean smaller budgets and clients that are less willing to be persuaded to go out on a creative limb, and less willing to be persuaded that doing something creatively arresting can help them grab market share. Uncertain economic times also lead to nervous agencies, more inclined to meekly agree with their clients through fear of losing them than to push them and cajole them into taking risks. Advertising right now is “dominated by procurement and a tendency to make risk averse ads, honed by research and focus groups to create an expected result for a known audience rather than finding and exciting the audience,” says Bare Films.  New start up 15 Badgers argues that fears over the global economy have led “clients and agencies to continue a cautious and frugal outlook.” And all that means that, as Another Film Co says: “the really exciting creative scripts are few and far between.”

Money’s too tight
But producers are certainly having to use their creative muscles to bring in a job on budget when those budgets are now so incredibly tight. Producers, who live and die on their creative reputation, can’t deliver substandard work just because the budgets are substandard, and that means being cleverer with the way they make spots but also taking a hit on profit. It’s about “balancing delivering outstanding creative work with budgets that are challenged,” says Independent and “retaining the quality of our output in an environment dedicated to reducing schedules and budgets,” says Studio AKA.

But risk averse advertisers don’t just drop their budgets, they demand more assurance that they’re going to get exactly the ad they want, and that means more competitive and protracted pitching, which hurts animation producers more than most. “Pitching standards are exceptionally high,” says Picasso. “Seemingly clients would like to see finished commercials before they decide to make them.”

Brave new worlds
Commercials producers are in no doubt that the days when it was possible to make nothing else but traditional TV commercials directly for agencies are coming to a close. Not that the 30-second spot business is disappearing, but those that have been battered on the rocks of advertising uncertainty over the last few years are looking more and more to other ways they can use their skills, and the talents of their roster.

The average commercials production companies now only derives 76% of its business from traditional commercials with 4% derived from promos, 1% from feature films, 3% from TV shows, 3.5% from branded content and 11% from “new media” with a host of other activities making up the rest of the picture. And it seems likely that that 76% will drop further in future. Even this year’s winner of the Commercials 30, Blink, a company that has had more success than most with the straight TV commercial feels things will change markedly in the future. “We want to stay focused on how brands engage with their consumers,” says Blink. And “the trend is less through traditional TV advertising as an interruptive media and more through brand participation and direct engagement. Branded content will probably dominate in the future.” This year’s second placed company, Rattling Stick, is similarly looking to a future where the straight TV spot is just one part of what it does. The company picks out the launch of its new wing, Rattling Stuff, as a highlight of its year. “Rattling Stuff is all about getting stuck into creative projects that fall outside Rattling Stick’s commercials remit. It will explore new media in its many guises, finding opportunities to produce interesting material in any form and we will either work with the talent we have already or cherry pick the best creative partners for the job. It could be a play, a short film, digital content, an installation – basically anything that isn’t a traditional TV or cinema commercial.”

And this desire is replicated across the sector. HSI reports it is opening up a new division called ISH “in order to facilitate the increase in non traditional work that we have been doing.” Others see that the breakdown in the traditional relationship of client-agency-producer making a standard advert could open up new opportunities that are only beginning to become evident. “The structure of the business as we knew it with very defined roles amongst client, agency, and production company have changed,” says Independent. “The main opportunities will be found in the cracks that have appeared as a result of this shift. There are no rules and guidelines as to how people conduct business. It is a bit like the wild west.”

The signs are that production companies, so long living in fear of “new media” and its effect on the traditional TV spot, have now fully embraced it and see it as an opportunity rather than a threat. Many are trying to offer a package deal to agencies and clients rather than remain as TV commercial specialists. “With agencies wanting both tvc and the digital element – being able to come to us to do the whole lot and work across both parts with us is an advantage,” says Stink. “As technologies merge and the ‘mystery’ of the internet and new media disappears, I see us offering integrated solutions to our clients,” says Th1ng. “Thinking through projects early and producing TV, internet, new media and print work all in one package with consistency and cost savings.”

Different strokes
Commercials production companies are no longer all the same shape – along with making commercials destined for the web, many are making longer form branded content more akin to a TV show than a 30-second ad. Others like Nexus and Blink have made moves into the art world with their directors creating, or helping to create, installation pieces. Others like Passion are working with fashion brands, providing visuals for launch shows that broadcast across the world. Others have dived into the world of apps or are making TV shows. For others, the world of feature films has become more attractive.

new horizons
As well as looking beyond the traditional TV ad, there is also a sense that commercials production companies are looking to the physical horizon too. While diversity in the type of work you do can help insulate a company against downturns in particular market sectors, diversity in the regions you serve helps too. While the UK is seen as rather a saturated, and possibly stagnating, advertising market other parts of the world economy are growing, so, for commercials producers, getting, or increasing their presence and recognition in other territories is key. “Collaboration with more overseas companies and clients,” is the driver for Crossroads and also for Rattling Stick who want to expand “our global partnerships and develop our directors’ reputations internationally.”

So producers battered by the vagaries of the ad market are making moves to insulate themselves against future fluctuations. And there is a sense in the sector now, that after so many consecutive years when advertising in particular, and the economy in general, have been in a downturn, those production companies that are still alive to tell the tale are probably the resilient ones. The last few years have been a masterclass in Darwinian selection throughout the sector and only the fittest, and the most adaptable, have survived.

Which is probably a good thing as there are plenty of signs that another recession is just around the corner.

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