TVNZ grabs the branded content bull by the horns, courts partners with new scheme

As consumers continue to find ways to avoid commercial messages, TV networks, brands and agencies are increasingly trying to make them unmissable by putting them inside some of their most popular programmes rather than inbetween, with the likes of MasterChef, The Block or the raft of talent shows all aiming to take things much further than a traditional sponsorship. And, as TVNZ’s head of sales Jeremy O’Brien announced at the network’s new season launch last week, TVNZ is trying to become more pro-active about cementing these relationships with brands with the creation of a new branded content initiative set to launch in 2014. 

Branded content, production funding, advertiser-funded programming or branded entertainment—whatever you want to call it—is a discipline that’s growing quickly around the world and it’s also growing in New Zealand. And O’Brien says clients and agencies are increasingly talking to TVNZ about ways to get closer to consumers; to provide a deeper brand experience beyond the traditional media mix. So this initiative is an attempt to formalise a process by calling for applications to co-develop content; and have the sales team act as the bridge between the typically very separate realms of clients and programming. 

It’s not about pure product placement or long-form advertorial (from an operational perspective, he says this is completely separate from its creative and production business unit Blacksand), but the “exciting process of co-creation to produce high quality video content that is relevant and attractive to its target audience, while also delivering on the objectives of a brand”. Otherwise known as The Holy Grail. 

Of course, this open courting of commercial interests wouldn’t have happened a few years back. But as TVNZ has moved further away from its charter as a public broadcaster, and as church and state have been able to become increasingly cosy, having formats that let brands fuse themselves into the content—without scaring off viewers for being too gratuitous and salesy—is a commercial reality for modern broadcasters. And O’Brien makes no apologies for that. 

So what does he hope to achieve with this project and what does he see in the tea leaves come 2014 (that might seem like a long way off, he says, but good TV takes time and plenty of planning).  

He says it’s possible there could be a new format dreamed up and potentially licensed internationally, although that’s not the over-riding goal (he points to Mitre 10 Dream Home, which was conceived ten years ago and is back next year with a Christchurch edition, as an example of an idea that probably had the potential to become an internationally-syndicated show). Or it might mean adopting an international format and adapting it for the New Zealand market. But whatever it is, TVNZ is putting $1 million on the table to do it and it is looking for partners to match that figure, which is akin to the funding approach taken for the hugely successful season of New Zealand’s Got Talent, with the bill split between NZ on Air and TVNZ and TVNZ paying its share with the help of major sponsor Toyota and P&G. 

We don’t know what the ideas might look like yet … We see our competency as making programmes and telling stories. And that’s the angle we’re looking at primarily. But we are looking at our own local formats all the time.” 

He says TVNZ’s Media Solutions team, which O’Brien headed up before being promoted to head of sales, has grown over the past three or four years in terms of revenue (staff numbers will stay the same even with this new initiative) and while selling ads still makes up the bulk of TVNZ’s revenue, he’s very keen for this kind of activity to increase and, as an example, he points to SMG Red from Seven Media Group, which made up around seven to nine percent of total revenues. He admits TVNZ isn’t at that level quite yet, but he’s confident it will make up seven to eight percent of TVNZ’s total revenue in the next couple of years. And this new branded content initiative is likely to play a big role in that evolution. 

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