Monday, May 18, 2009
It's time for networks to change their attitude towards brand entertainment
One of the frustrations of working in brand entertainment space is that TV network programmers remain unconvinced of brand funded television's merits. It's something we're constantly banging our heads against.
While prime time shows like Australian Idol and Australia's Next Top Model are network commissioned, they are at the very least part brand funded when you consider the role that sponsors, contra and licensing play in generating revenue and saving dollars on the bottom line.
As programming budgets shrink, and audiences fragment, we'll see an increasing move towards the part commissioned, part brand funded TV model which is a great thing for this market. (Nine's Homemade is a classic example of this, although the response from audiences suggests they're not finding it overly entertaining).
Currently, in the minds of network programmers, '100% brand funded television' still equates to a fundamental trade off between entertainment quality and advertiser needs. It means off-peak scheduling and free programming for a slot they'd rather not worry about.
They're inherently suspicious, their policies around brand entertainment tend to change fairly regularly, and despite the obvious benefits (delivering value to audiences and brands, higher yields, lower programming costs), there is, as someone said to me recently, "still a bit of a stink" around it.
The most frustrating thing is the artificial dichotomy between the potential entertainment value in a commissioned show, versus a brand funded show. Small screen history is littered with discarded network shows that failed to rate and cost big money.
Who says a brand funded show can't be entertaining? Or can't deliver a big audience?
There's no doubt that brand funded TV producers are partially to blame for the 'down and dirty' reputation. In the past this kind of programming has been characterised by lower production values, a plethora of logos, and a crappy offpeak timeslot.
This was because producers were forced to monetise poor timeslots by over capitalising on the number of brands involved. They were often bending over backwards to squeeze dollars from skeptical marketers, who then approached the content as they would an ad - more logos please!
This paradigm is now old and outdated.
The reality is that there are many more places for producers to distribute brand funded content - in a sense, the TV element is becoming a launch-pad or marketing tool for a bigger content play online.
In addition, marketers are a hell of a lot more sophisticated. They recognise the danger of compromising the entertainment integrity, and the audiences' interests. If brands are not providing value for an audience, they might as well spend their money on something else.
Overall, if the dynamics of brand funded TV are to change, network attitudes have to change.
Network support = bigger budgets = better production values = better timeslot = better marketing support = better value for brands = less brands required to fund the proposition.