With the UK TV industry facing an economic nightmare, Vicky Hamburger, managing director of consultancy SliderTV, believes ad-funded programming could help ease the pain

In recent years the UK TV industry has been facing seismic changes which have come with huge financial challenges, causing a ripple effect that has left the sector reeling. At the last count, 75% of freelancers are out of work and production companies are searching for lifelines.

One ray of light, however, is the increasing emergence of ad-funded programming (AFP), which offers an alternative and additional source of funding to help the TV industry get back on its feet.

British TV is currently weathering a perfect storm of economic hardships. The explosion of streaming giants, digital platforms and social media has fragmented viewers which in turn has led to dwindling ad revenues.

With a reduced ‘traditional’ advertising revenue stream, commercial broadcasters have found it increasingly challenging to sustain a robust production pipeline. The impact has been felt across the industry, with many broadcasters freezing commissioning budgets – in effect a reduction in real terms – leading to a devastating knock-on effect for production companies and freelancers. Add to this the BBC’s commissioning budget being impacted by a frozen licence fee and increased operational costs, the rising costs of living and the SAG strike in the US having an unforeseen impact on UK TV production, and it feels to many that the industry is hitting crisis point.

So far, so doom and gloom. But the good news is there is another way for advertisers to get eyeballs to their brands and for us to deliver high quality content and revive the industry. This is where AFP and product placement comes in.

Yes, it’s a culture change and one to which many are resistant. But it’s imperative that we look at, and embrace, different funding models to support the production pipeline and get the industry back on its feet.

“We need to find alternative commercial arrangements to finance a new entertainment media economy,” says AFP consultant Simon Wells. “And partnering brands in creating and financing quality entertainment is just one other way to do this in a time where we have a rapidly evolving TV entertainment economy.”

So, how does it all work? AFPs are productions that have been financed upfront primarily through advertisers’ resources, rather than traditional broadcaster commissioning models. Advertisers fund either part or even all of the production, allowing production companies to create engaging and high-quality shows, often reflecting brand values, and sometimes weaving brand exposure seamlessly into the narrative in the form of product placement, ensuring viewers are exposed to the brand whilst not feeling they are being advertised to.

This model of upfront funding can take many different shapes. A brand can fund an entire show or series, or just a part of it, with the rest of the funding coming from the broadcaster or indeed another brand. A funding brand can effectively sponsor a show and have formal break bumpers highlighting the brand’s association – which we already see across all the commercial channels – or product placement can be integrated within a show. Consider for example a travelogue where the car that is used is part of a deal with a brand to finance the show in return. This does not have to affect the editorial in any way, and yet the show is the beneficiary of additional funding. Some might say that’s a win win.

It’s not easy making an AFP. There are more stakeholders to consider. It’s crucial to set clear boundaries with the brand funder from the very start, to know the Ofcom guidelines around AFP’s and product placement, and to liaise closely with the broadcaster around what they will and won’t allow, before any deal can be finalised.

It’s crucial to ensure that any talent who will be featured don’t have sponsorship deals in place that may conflict with the brands who are funding the show, and this will have to be carefully considered before any deal is put in place.

It’s also important to work with a funding partner that understands that engaging and authentic editorial is the key, and to defer to the production company, which is the natural expert in this regard. This will save a lot of pain further down the line.

The difference when you’re cutting an AFP, rather than a regular commission funded by a broadcaster, is that the brand funder will also need to see the show and provide notes, albeit the channel must maintain final editorial control as it would for any other commission. So, in the edit you’re not only dealing with notes from the commissioning editor and the compliance lawyer, but also from the brand you’re working with. It can be a tricky balancing act as you have obligations to fulfil to all parties. But get it right and you could open up a whole new revenue source to support high quality programming, just with a slightly different funding model.

● Set out a clear agreement and boundaries with the funder at the very beginning, including when and how their brand will receive exposure
● Use a consultant who is well versed in this area to put together the deal and liaise with the broadcaster
● Ensure language and content around any product placement is neutral and not promotional, and that the product placement is seamlessly weaved into the editorial
● Make sure you have clearly demarcated parameters around who is reviewing, when they will be reviewing, what level of feedback can be accommodated, and how any notes that come in will be managed
● Ensure you read and understand Ofcom’s requirements around AFP and product placement
● Closely follow the advice of your compliance lawyer to make sure you don’t get into hot water
● Add the ‘P’ logo (unless the broadcaster undertakes to do that) onto the start, back into every part, and at the end, as per Ofcom guidelines, to clearly signal that there is product placement
● Consider using a consultant who can liaise with the brand funder on your behalf during the shoot and edit, so that your production team can concentrate on making the best show possible

With thanks to Neil Pepin, Commercial Compliance Lawyer and Simon Wells, AFP consultant, for all their advice.

Vicky Hamburger

Vicky has worked in factual TV for more than twenty five years. Her most recent position was Head of Factual at Primal Media and prior to that she was at Betty for six years as Head of Docs.

Her background is in docs, popular factual series and factual entertainment formats, with a strong track record in developing, pitching and winning business, plus exec’ing.

Career highlights include: launching Big Fat Gypsy Weddings, developing & launching The Undateables, and making the first episode of Supernanny.

SliderTV was set up by Vicky Hamburger in 2020 to offer Exec Producer services across development and production, creative strategy, and ad-funded programming support. If you want to explore AFP, we can find the funding and support you every step of the way.
With extensive contacts across multiple sectors of the branding world, domestically and globally, we can attach the right brand to your project and negotiate the deal.
And because we understand editorial, we will act as liaison between you and the brand to ensure that you can deliver the best creative work without any added stress.




Pippa Considine

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