CLIVE CROUCH: Behind the screen (January)

The financing models for production in the children's sector have come under tremendous pressure both in the UK and internationally.
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Falling revenues hurt the broadcaster, lower licence fees hurt the studio/producer and distributor. And broadcast time remains a perishable commodity.

In children’s television most of the content can be recycled across a plethora of delivery systems from CBBC to Bin Weevils. What goes on behinds the scenes manifests into the viewing experience; driven by rights, windows and licence fees.

This funding challenge is compounded by the fact that shows have a long shelf life. Broadcasters are reducing the size of their acquisition budgets, but maintaining the same output and number of shows, because networks are happy to return the popular ones.

So let’s return to those funding models and see on a local basis what the upside could be for children’s programmes from Advertiser Supplier Funded (ASF).

Ad funded was reported to be worth £15m in 2010 across all genres to the indie programme sector; forecast to grow to £22m in 2011 (according to Kremplewood.)

Before we consider the activity in the children’s sector just pause for a minute and ask yourself what shows have you watched that are visibly ASF and where the brand has registered its mark with you?

For the purpose of this article let’s assume that kids are much smarter than us adults and can identify and engage with brands that have an ASF role in children’s programming far more readily than we do in adult shows.

In principle the theory that ASF could provide a lucrative new route to funding can only be achieved within the rules and regulation, before addressing the creative challenge.

Advertisers using TV know that television remains the most powerful medium in the world, they are keen to innovate and look beyond spot advertising and sponsorship and consider ASF.

The opportunity to take up a piece of the programme rights, that in turn allows an advertiser to create more brand visibility with a show, and take the message across the line in a more immersive style. This opportunity remains an attractive proposition.

However, given the aforementioned challenges, is ASF too much work for too little return?

This column does not run enough space for me to debate the set of do's and dont's that apply across Europe; it is not my intention to dodge that issue and I will further open the debate next month.

To set the scene in the context of this feature a brief precis of the rules from the regulator OFCOM paints the picture.

“The brand is prohibited from any direct product refrences and from any involvement in the editorial, aside from the break bumpers at the beginning, and end of the show and in the ad break bumpers, the bumpers are resticted to not allow any ‘call to action’.”

These rules are not meant to be any kind of deterrent, in fact the regulator handles ASF very much like a ‘sponsored programme’.

The most difficult aspect in any commercial message associated with editorial rests in the interpretation. The challenge for brands considering ASF is to maintain their creative energy and continue to innovate.

Former chairman of the childrens’ programme management group at GMTV, Clive Crouch has now launched his own media consultancy Clive Crouch Media Insight.
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