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This paradigm is now old and outdated.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.


Anonymous said...

Branded entertainment is to me still an untapped opportunity, in TV as well as film and online video.

With Hulu's unholy union of TV and online content (in the US at least), the obvious, interrupting pre-roll ad will eventually come to be seen as an irritatingly anachronistic throwback to TV commercials. Marketers will find a more powerful means of delivering their message by subtly weaving it into the content. The key to this is scriptwriters, who are best positioned to incorporate the brand’s message in a germane and relevant fashion, without awkwardly obvious placements like an old Adam Sandler film.

The benefits of embedded branding in online video are self-evident. LonelyGirl15 became fairly lucrative for the makers, though mostly as giveaways. We’re working on an online series with branding integral to the plot, so the brand message is part of the story, without being forced.

Kate Richardson said...
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Kate Richardson said...

Good food for thought @returnon.

I think the key is not only scriptwriters, but clearly articulating the role of the brand up front, and developing the right marketing strategy.

Potentially the most important element is the marketing program you build around the content. If you invest all your money in production dollars and leave nothing to drive audience and leverage the asset then you're forced to try and shove the brand into the content as much as possible in the hope of generating the right return on investment - and this is unlikely to add up.

It's a more sophisticated version of the sports marketing model essentially.

Matt Moore said...

*Puts hand up*

I have a question: Has the economic slowdown and the resulting squeeze put on TV networks by media buyers & their corporate paymasters made the networks more or less open to brand entertainment?

Kate Richardson said...

Interestingly Matt, it hasn't made much difference.

Brand funded is usually relegated to offpeak and this is not a priority for programmers in terms of audience or budget, so the pressures exerted by the current climate aren't really 'forcing their hand' here.

Brand funded in prime time is a win-win, but it's a matter of changing mindsets, and not just with networks, but production companies too.

Anonymous said...

Great video at AdAge on branded TV shows in China, particularly focusing on the Chinese version of Ugly Betty. However, they may go to far; more Dove than a John Woo film...