For years, pessimistic pundits have been talking about the death of TV. But TV viewership is still as strong as ever, and ad revenue is standing fairly firm. One thing that has definitely changed, however, is the integration of brands into programming and the ability of social media to light fires underneath content, as evidenced most recently by the launch of the X Factor NZ—and the way broadcasters are now working more closely with marketers and creative agencies to come up with original branded content ideas.
MediaWorks' head of integration Melanie Reece says The X Factor NZ launched well last week, even though it was beaten by TVNZ's Sunday and MasterChef (last night's episode was watched by 426,170 and was beaten by The Force, Border Security and My Kitchen Rules. That was a decrease from last Monday's 450,000). But it's the "exciting activation plan with all four of the sponsors" and the immense social media engagement that's floating Reece's boat.
Broadcast sponsor Ford was also involved in New Zealand's Next Top Model, which was executive produced by the same team involved on X Factor, and the brand had great results with The X Factor overseas. So it talked with the international team about how to make best use of the property. And as well as The Passengers, which saw a pimped out Ford Kuga travel to the 27 audition stops around the country and record people singing in the back seat, it got in behind the Fast Ford to Bootcamp idea, which coached and choreographed ten contenders and allowed them to leapfrog the general audition process and go straight through to the bootcamp section.
When they first asked, the answer was no. But Freemantle eventually came around and, for the first time in any market, allowed a change to the format. This allowed MediaWorks to promote the show on its radio stations, in this case The Edge.
"Ford was able to be at all the auditions. And once the auditions finished, their campaign continued so it’s given them such a long campaign duration," says Reece.
The next major integration is the Samsung Insider, a behind-the-scenes content play for the tech behemoth.
"They were really keen to activate in the digital space and deliver for Samsung users," says integration manager Joanne Law. "So they’ve launched a promotion to find the Samsung Insider. They will go back stage and record video diaries that will be played on the official website so it’s a chance for someone to be a TV presenter. They audition via Samsung device, there’s an app that’s been developed and you can also enter on Facebook, so we'll bring a group up to Auckland for a screen test and we have a date to film where they interview the stars and they’ll do all of their reporting using Samsung products. All of those clips will be released to Samsung exclusively for 24 hours. And that took an enormous amount of negotiation [with Freemantle] as well."
McDonald’s has already featured on screen, with the back story of a girl group filmed inside a restaurant (no word on whether 'Chicken Man' Mitchell Wahl, who made it to the Huffington Post, will be sponsored by McChicken) and McDonald’s also fed the bootcamp contenders.
Coca-Cola's main play is yet to come and while MediaWorks couldn’t talk about the idea, it’s probably no coincidence it's currently in market with the Share a Coke and a Song campaign.
Compared to shows like MasterChef and The Block NZ, which are often fairly blatant with their on-screen integration, shows like New Zealand's Got Talent and The X Factor are more "glamorous, international and classy" and tend to require ideas that live off-screen, either on the website or on Facebook. As a result, the integrations are often additions to the show, rather than something that's engrained into it.
"X Factor is number one in 35 countries, so it registers on people’s radars," says Reece. "It’s so unbelievably aspirational and that’s what the partners leveraged. The reason they're all there is because the programme is around hopes and aspirations and they owned that for their brands. The Block is DIY, get down and dirty and those brands are there because they’re being used in the show. They are the products and services you need to renovate a house."
MediaWorks publicity manager Rachel Lorimer says things went pretty crazy on social media for The Block, particularly when records were broken in the second-half of the season as more 'Blockaholics' came out of the woodwork, The X Factor has blown it out of the water and she says she's never seen an online response like this before, with the show already over 50,000 likes on the Facebook page (15,000 likes were gained between Sunday and Monday last week).
Reece says producers of event TV are now talking about how the launch of a show is unbelievably important to get people hooked in on social media.
"Basically, if you can achieve that you’re safe for the rest of the series," says Reece. "It’s only really started happening in the past 18 months where social media is seen as being integral to event television."
And, as an article about the golden age of TV in Wired magazine suggests, this evolution could mean existing ratings systems are measuring the wrong thing.
The TV experience doesn’t stop when the episode ends. We watch with tablets on our laps so we can look up an actor’s IMDb page. We tweet about the latest plot twist (discreetly, to avoid spoilers). We fill up the comments section of our favorite online recappers. We kibitz with Facebook friends about Hannah Horvath’s latest paramour. We start Tumblrs devoted to Downton decor. We’re engaging with a show even if we aren’t watching it, but none of this behavior factors into Nielsen’s calculation of its impact.
"This whole idea of event TV being amplified off the screen so strongly is absolutely massive. If you do buy into the future being product placement and branded messages that are interweaved into entertaining shows that appeal to a mass audience, it’s a good advertising model. And the next big step-change will be internet-enabled TVs. The ability to be entertained and be one click away from purchase or some other kind of experience that a brand offers is hugely exciting."
Reece says demand for ad space in the show is increasing all the time because opportunities like those offered by shows like X Factor NZ are "very rare and highly [coveted]."
"There are very few mass opportunities anymore. We've fragmented so much, and it's a problem for agencies for advertisers and marketers, so this idea that you've got a mass appeal show and the ability to engage around it and, from an ad perspective, have your marketing campaign be highly identifiable at the same time as provoking an emotion, that’s powerful and I can’t think of any other media has that combo. Social media is great but I think it’s only great when you’re hanging it off something that’s really appealing for the consumer. So the TV/social media combo is the one for me. And it’s absolutely second nature to the generation coming up. They really don’t want a one dimensional viewing experience. They want to be on there chatting to their friends. So what is that generation going to demand out of television in the future?”
It's now largely accepted by viewers that you need to put up with advertising to get free content (unless you know your way around the internet, of course). But what about advertising featuring inside the content? Has there been any kickback on that?
Lorimer: "We replied to a couple of Facebook posts saying ‘ohh, another ad break’, but we would jump in and say 'we just want to assure you that the ad breaks aren’t different to normal TV'. It was very minimal. Plus, there’s not much in-show integration."
While MediaWorks doesn't have the reach of TVNZ's two mainstream channels, one of its strengths is that it owns radio stations (and has access to their associated digital properties and communities). And it has leaned on that radio expertise heavily for the show, both in terms of production and promotion.
Co-executive producer Andrew Szusterman has a radio and music background and Lorimer says it's got some of the best sound engineers in the business. It also has people who know how to put a playlist together or construct a concert for live events and it has access to a whole heap of data about the country's most popular songs.
Lorimer says when she mentioned to the format owner Freemantle that MediaWorks had half the music brands in the country, including the most popular music brand for youth, "he was beside himself" (interestingly, competitor The Radio Network station ZM has launched a talent show portal).
"It’s a feather in our cap. And it’s huge for clients," says Law. "They like having that ease of association with radio to extend their association with the show. A lot of them have radio activation built into their sponsorship deals. It just aligns everything."
While MediaWorks often trumpets this point of difference, Reece believes it has reached a new level of "dovetailing everything together" with this project.
"From TV3’s perspective this is the biggest event TV brand on the planet and, because it's about music, radio is wholeheartedly supporting us," she says. "The reason so many people went to auditions was because the radio guys sent them there. When the Edge tells you to do something, you do it. And that’s why I think the talent is superior to other shows."
She says all of MediaWorks' key influencers were tweeting about the show last week, although The Edge's Dom Harvey did get into a bit of hot water with a misguided Tweet about female rappers. And Lorimer says there was a tongue-in-cheek tweet from one of their comedic employees saying “Wow, what an amazing show, I guess that’s where our payrises went".
"And I gave permission for TV3 to tweet back: Yes."
She says MediaWorks TV chief executive Paul Maher even sent an "uncharacteristically excited" email about the show and asked her if it was too soft.
"I said on two nights when you’ve been up there, especially on Sunday and Monday, which are always difficult nights, you can say what you want. You can go back to being grumpy tomorrow."
So how much of an impact does integration have on the business? When we spoke with TVNZ's director of sales Jeremy O'Brien about its new branded content initiative, he said seven percent of Seven Network's revenue in Australia came from the SMG Red integration arm. He was confident its media solutions team would make up seven to eight percent of TVNZ's total revenue in the next couple of years, with the new initiative likely to play a big role in that. But Reece says it’s higher than seven percent at MediaWorks, although it's from a smaller base, and it has a 100 percent year-on-year growth.
As a result of this shift away from big brand ads towards branded content, she says the broadcasters are starting to see some new faces.
"Rather than a brand ad, agencies are seeing opportunities to create branded content. Which is not good for media agencies," says Reece. "Our sales team, they’ve only ever spoken to media agencies. So everyone is feeling quite uncomfortable about what happens in that situation. It’s all very political. Creative agencies are moving in to media space and media agencies are trying to move into the creative space, not very well in my opinion. So there’s a really big change going on."
Reece, Lorimer and Law all say branded content ideas work best if creatives are open to admitting that they're not the experts in this field.
"If they come in with pre-conceived ideas, if they turn up and say here’s an idea, we want you to make it, it’s just production," says Law. "If it's not a genuine collaboration, it doesn’t work."
Creative agencies aren't well-renowned for admitting what they don't know, but Lorimer says making a really compelling hour long programme is not easy and it's very different from making an ad.
As she says, the Unitec 'Change Starts Here' campaign was an awesome creative idea. But judged against other documentaries and reality programming, it doesn't compare.
"That’s why we get someone like Julie Christie on The Block or the people working on the X Factor because they know how to make TV," she says. "Clients need to maximise activity in the places they know. It needs activation off-screen. We don’t try to tell them how to make TVCs or to do campaigns on social media. We just help them to keep it on brand."
Reece says the brave marketers are open enough to trust the experts. But safe marketers don't tend to agree to that leap of faith.
"It’s fascinating and it’s turning into a really big business," she says.