Meteor Minows. Image courtesy of Kuroko.
I did a panel session a few weeks ago with Russell at Promax, the annual conference and awards for the TV promotional people in the UK. We were on the same bill (well they were on the main stage and we were in the studio) as some real giants of the media world – Will Gompertz (who heads up Tate Media), Emily Bell (the genius behind the Guardian’s mastery of the world of online journalism) and the legendary Stephen Berlin Johnson (he of ‘The Ghost Map’ and ‘Everything Bad is Good for You’ fame).
I was scared of messing up so I made some notes about the subjects we were due to cover and I thought I’d post them. They are a bit scrappy but if you are interested you will get the general drift.
1. What do advertisers still want from TV?
While budgets are slowly moving it seems to me that there are things that TV does uniquely well as a communication medium. And it’s the stuff new and other media don’t do so well
Scale – Delivering big results
Speed – TV is slowing down as it takes longer to build reach but it is still pretty good if you need things to change and pronto
Spectacle and emotional depth – TV’s killer app
It is, however, important to be mindful that it’s primacy as a medium is declining. It is no longer the ultimate window onto a brand and this role will decline further in the future. Nowadays online is the only medium with the bandwidth to handle the complexity of today’s big brand ideas. And so advertisers and their agencies will become more ruthless about the specific role they are asking TV to play.
I think as a result that it will become a more tactical medium. Not that it will be full of ghastly Direct Response ads for loan companies but that it will be more purposeful. Infact thats a rather nice idea -making advertising more purposeful. In particular TV will be used a catalyst for brand change to draw a line under the past and establish new brand approaches (there is a little more on this idea here). Specifically TV will be used to start conversations that are continued elsewhere or in more intelligent interactive spaces. And of course it will continue to have a role whenever you want to build salience fast (Gorilla of course).
In addition some would argue that the dumb medium is going to get a lot cleverer particularly in the area of addressability as millions of TVs get smarter set top boxes underneath them.
2. How good is the television business in managing their own brands?
This question rather presupposes there are television brands that can be managed. The reality is that there are loads of channels but not many brands
UK TV is a bit like the privatised railway system. There are any number of Train Operating Companies all with their brand identities, brand guidelines, liveries and an obsession with painting the station lamposts in their garish corporate colours. But is Silver Link Metro a brand? Is One a brand? is First Capital connect a brand? Brands live inside people’s minds and I challenge any of these train operators to suggest their brands live in side anyone’s minds except that of the regulator.
There are a clutch of real brands out there from BBC One to Sky Sports. But there aren’t many. Not really.
I think it is partly because no one had to bother to build a brand at the dawn of UK multichannel, you paid your money, got on the EPG and Sky or whatever the cable platform was called that week, served you up as part of a package. So it made channel brands lazy.
We will find out exactly how many real brands there are when the inevitable channel crunch comes and only those channels with powerful brands survive the collapse of the revenue models that keep them afloat. And it will get particularly scary for channel brands if real brands from outside TV move into their patch – for instance Will Gompertz was threatening a Tate channel in his talk.
If this question is about the minor controversies that the BBC and Channel Four navigated their way through this year (from fixed phone in competitions to dodgy editing of royal documentaries) they will undoubtedly survive them intact because unlike much of the of the UK TV channel landscape they are real brands with huge depth and audience affinity.
3. What of the relationship between programme and channel brands/
In the long term I am not that confident about the future of channel brands. There is a real issue ahead about who the primary audience relationship is with – the programme brand and production brand or the channel brand.
Channel brands have traditionally built themselves through an intimate association with landmark programming.
If I can acquire that programming from any number of sources, from itunes to the production company itself. If my only contact with the channel is the slot on the EPG where 8 weeks ago I series linked the content for my Sky+. And if content is rarely the exclusive property of an individual channel (witness the way CBBC, Cbeebies and Nick Junior share Lazy Town, the world’s most expensive Children’s TV programme) then how is this going to happen in the future?
I don’t care who has the cash to buy the latest season of Lost I just want Lost. And increasingly I am going to know who makes the stuff I like. I like HBO drama I don’t care who broadcasts it. I like RDF reality TV I don’t care who broadcasts it. I like Kudos UK drama I don’t care who broadcasts it.
Channel brands have got to do more than content distribution – for any brand to prosper they need to play a real role in our lives.
It might be instructive to look at what is happening in other areas of the brandscape where brands are becoming more opinionated and advancing powerful and engaging points of view on the world from Dove to Howies.
Maybe it is time for channel brands to have a real point of view about the world we live in.
4. What is the future for branded content?
It depends what we mean by branded content.
If we mean brands funding mainstream programming for mainsteam channels as a way to make up for the effect of on-demand services and timeshifting technology om advertising effectiveness and revenue then I can’t really see the point.
If we mean brands making content for their own channels and to deliver their own strategies then I’m very enthusiastic about it. I am particularly into IPTV at the moment and with software like Brightcove making it easy and cheap I don’t understand why every brand isn’t in the TV business right now. Frankly I think it’s the future for brands on the web.
Real branded content rather than content funded by brands gives you enormous brandwidth to immerse the viewer in the full majesty of your brand idea and the world it inhabits.
One of the best examples if Land Rover’s Go Beyond IPTV channel which is a mixture of bespoke short form content dramatising the Go Beyond idea and licenced content from brands like Discovery.
So in a way we are talking about reverse branded content where the brand sets up a conversation with its audience and uses channel content to expand that rather than the channel setting up a conversation and hoping a brand will pay for it in return for a few illegal product shots.
5. What about User Generated Content?
Forgive me for feeling a little jaded on this subject.
Its just that it’s the latest ‘new toy’ in the marketing world and brands are obsessing about it without any clear understanding of how to use it.
For consumers its big news, for brands it’s the latest new media fad – this week’s Second Life.
Its clearly useful for the TV world both in finding new programme making talent and deepening involvement in landmark content but you know all that stuff and there is little I can add to you sum of knowledge as a humble ad planner.
All I would suggest is that as with all brand oriented UGC the brand has to make the first move. It has to tell us what the idea is and why we might want to get involved. UGC is not an excuse for channel or any other brands for that matter to abdicate responsibility for having point of view.
And more and more I am far more interested in Brand Generated Content. What I mean is brands using all the tools and techniques that users now have to throw off content constantly rather than sticking to more formal content production and distribution.
These days everything a brand does is content.