Alternatively Funded Content paves the way for new communication solutions

The business models for funding content are fundamentally shifting, and this shift will deliver a new paradigm in communication planning.

The traditional models for funding quality journalism via advertising seem under irrevocable strain especially in newspapers.

Programme makers on TV are for the first time beginning to whole heartedly welcome advertisers directly.

This was certainly the message of MediaCom Beyond Advertising’s first branded content conference last week. Jimmy Mulville, comedian and co-owner of Hat Trick Productions announced that he looks forward enthusiastically to the day when the producers of quality TV content come directly to advertisers and media agencies to discuss their ideas. Mulville wants rid of the term “Advertiser Funded Content”, because he says it worries some people on his side of the professional fence. They fear perhaps being asked to produce a ghastly hybrid of a public relations film and long and mediocre commercial.

In reality the idea that anyone would want to commission something that the audience would regard as rubbish is, of course, ridiculous.

The point of content for any brand is to deliver quality consumer attention. MBA’s own research proves that increased attentiveness to branded content can significantly lift both spontaneous brand awareness and indeed intention to purchase. (For more detail on this, email Stefan.Bardega@mediacom.com).

As both Jimmy, and Stefan (who runs MBA and chaired the conference) pointed out , all content is commercially funded in one way or another. It is in fact a glorious and longstanding tradition. And includes the highest possible quality output. Shakespeare was writing for the court and was therefore state funded, as was Chaucer, and neither of them had the benefit of an independent licence payers trust to protect their creative integrity. Stefan claimed the earliest known branded content was enacted in the Roman Coliseum, only to be corrected by Mulville who is clearly better educated in the classics, and countered with Virgil’s Aeneid – written around 19 BCE for the emperor Augustus Caesar to legitimise the Roman empire (http://classics.mit.edu/Virgil/aeneid.html) and one of the finest epic poems of all time. Perhaps not the debate you expect every day within the walls of 124 Theobalds Road!

And TV is not the only entertainment sector where Alternatively Funded Content (my new meaning for AFP, how does that sound Jimmy?) is transforming business models. Rob Salter – head of entertainment at Tesco’s – made headlines recently with his venture into an alternative business model for funding movies. The film Orson and Me starring Disney legend Zac Ephron in a departure from his usual singing and dancing roles (he shot to fame in High School Musical) was partly funded via a deal that delivered Tesco’s some exclusive content for the dvd sales. The opportunity to promote the product in this way was part of the package that convinced the financiers to commit to the making of the film.

The financing of movies is beyond most marketers budgets, but the cost of producing a TV show compares attractively to the cost of a quality 30 second commercial. A peak 30 minute series can have a ball park price tag of £75k per episode. And, as one of our other speakers pointed out the insights which the marketers of a brand can offer into their target audience can be really useful for TV producers. Paul Jackson, CEO of Eyeworks called for a shift from the traditional relationship between broadcasters and producers to a more open one, that included marketers and their agencies.

In the past, the barrier to considering branded TV programming content as a communication solution has been a mixture of cost, control but vitally the reluctance of TV producers to engage. Those barriers are coming down. Soon making a 30 minute TV programme may be as simple, relevant and accountable an answer to a brief as a 30” TV ad.

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