Broadcast: Go with the stream

As broadcasters expand their online offering, Mark Johnson asks if PROs are ignoring a vital comms channel.

Moves by the BBC over the past two years to offer more content via new media illustrates the rate at which broadcast is changing.

The broadcast of this year's Eurovision Song Contest, for example, was innovative. In addition to its linear TV coverage, the BBC offered a digital interactive service and the chance to download videos from each of the 39 participating countries via its Broadband Player and WAP portal. Eleven per cent of the Eurovision audience requested video streams on the web and through their mobile phones.

The implications for broadcast PR are clear: with more than 200,000 British homes hooking up to broadband each month and consumers increasingly opting to view video and audio content on their mobiles and online, these new media are emerging as essential in an overall broadcast PR strategy.

But is the PR industry taking advantage of this development?

Howard Kosky, managing director of broadcast agency Markettiers4dc, believes PROs are failing to realise the extent to which convergence is changing broadcast in what could be a boom period for the industry.

'The PR industry thinks of radio as being the hardware unit by which you listen,' says Kosky. 'It thinks of video as being for TV. But why can't this content be broadcast via a website? It may not reach the millions of viewers you get with the early evening news, but you will reach a more targeted audience. Getting the CEO on FT.com, for example, can be very valuable.'

Multiplatform approach

Stuart Maister, founder of broadcast comms agency BroadView, says the BBC's multiplatform strategy reflects exactly how brands and companies should approach broadcast PR.

'PROs are missing a trick,' he says. 'Internet content is editorially driven. It is "pull" content - consumers want to see it, as opposed to "push" content, which is advertising.'

Both specialists fear that PROs may be failing to recognise the scale to which viewers are migrating to new media. In his keynote speech at the Broadcast Content Management Conference in June, the BBC's director of new media and technology, Ashley Highfield, put it plainly: 'Broadcasting is changing. TV reach is falling. For broadcasters to reach the public, multiplatform is not just nice to have, it's a necessity.'

The enthusiasm consumers show for streaming video and audio online presents two opportunities to brands. The first lies with supplying content to news organisations online. The second is a direct-to-consumer approach.

The use of streaming video and audio by news organisations online is increasing, according to Shoba Purushothaman, co-founder, president and CEO of The NewsMarket, which delivers video clips to 5,000 newsrooms in 140 countries online, including the BBC, Reuters and Associated Press.

'We aggregate video clips for broadcast, online and even print journalists.

Traditional broadcast journalists used to be the only ones to use video but the websites of Forbes, Fortune and BusinessWeek all incorporate video now,' says Purushothaman.

Organisations such as the US State Department and the UK Ministry of Defence pay The NewsMarket for supplying B-roll footage and VNRs to journalists, who access them for free. Footage from Iraq is proving particularly popular at present, along with healthcare and technology stories, adds Purushothaman.

There is also the potential to develop brand-related editorial for news and lifestyle portals. Online media owners, such as Tiscali and Lycos, are keen to receive brand-related content. Tiscali portal director Richard Ayers says his company recently partnered with Sony to produce content on digital photography for its technology channel. Ayers, a former senior BBC radio and TV journalist, points out that in this environment, brand promotion through editorial is acceptable.

'Overt brand promotion is a question of tone,' says Ayers. 'If it's done knowingly, cleverly or with humour, then you can get away with a high level of brand promotion.'

Not all media owners are looking for content in the same format. Purushothaman says: 'Only about one per cent of our clients supply VNRs because major news organisations don't like them. Investing in a VNR is expensive. Money is much more wisely spent on B-roll.'

Time pressures

Ayers, however, says: 'There's no way we have the time to edit, so 85 per cent of our content comes in pre-produced and we pick our partners carefully.'

Another market approach is far more targeted. By 'narrowcasting' direct to the audience, brands maintain greater control over the message and have the power to target content at specific audiences.

Kosky points out: 'Ofcom is probably ten years away from regulating the web, so there is an opportunity for brands to create content for the internet.'

His company is currently investing in a studio, which, among other things, will produce video material for clients solely for use on the web.

'Broadband providers are spending millions on advertising high-speed access video and sound content,' says Kosky. 'Within a broadcast strategy, online visual content is another part of, not a replacement for, TV. But the PR industry can now produce its own programmes for the web. The advantage over TV is the direct control you have over the message.

'If you're a brand sponsoring a factual TV programme, you're not allowed to get involved with the content.

But what is to stop, for example, B&Q producing its own content on DIY projects online (such as how to put up a shelf) and selling tools and material at the same time?'

Broadband has liberated the web for broadcast PR. However, mobile phones have yet to offer similar opportunities. Owen Purcell, product director at Blue Star Mobile - a company which offers mobile phone content services (and launched The Sun's WAP portal) says the market will take a while to mature.

'There aren't that many phones on which you can watch video at present,' he says. 'But the core market is youth. Music videos are popular on mobiles, as is film, and we're talking to Channel 4 about creating educational video content for schoolchildren, but that will be via SIM cards. We expect the educational market will pick up once the new media market matures.'

Broadcast PR practitioners must be quick to latch on to new media as part of their strategies before the market matures and advertising agencies beat them to it.

THE WEB AS BROADCASTER

Markettiers4dc built a broadcast strategy for the launch of the AA's new UK Road Atlas, which showed the location of speed cameras for the first time. The overall objective was to generate as much broadcast coverage of the story as possible while maintaining the message that the AA discourages speeding and encourages safe driving. By creating content suitable for broadcast, the campaign message was also carried online.

On 27 June, Markettiers4dc offered three AA spokespeople to the media, broadcasting from unusual but appropriate locations, such as a lay-by in Basingstoke and at a speed camera in Twickenham. As well as live interviews with BBC Breakfast and pre-recorded material for later news editions, the agency supplied footage of AA spokespeople for Sky News, to which the channel added its own material for a news item repeated regularly.

In total, 14 TV and 40 radio interviews were conducted. Sky also made the footage available on its website. This allowed regular site visitors, who might not be Sky News TV viewers or may not have access to a TV during the day, to view the AA video as part of the website's archive.

Two hours of TV coverage was achieved through 72 hits, reaching 36.3 million people, according to the agency. On radio, 40 stations covered the story, including numerous regional BBC outlets.

DIRECT-TO-CONSUMER

BT's web seminars

BroadView has put together a programme of online seminars for BT, an example of what it calls 'narrowcasting' for highly-targeted audiences.

Aimed at educating an SME audience about BT's new initiatives and services, the webcast events were designed to be viewed either live or subsequently on demand from the website, the target audience having been alerted to these events by various other marketing channels.

A live studio programme was produced by the agency with a presenter managing a discussion. Live polling was used to engage the audience in a seminar format with the results fed to the panel for discussion.

The third strand was an 'event capture', in which material was recorded for later use. BT cannot release download statistics, but BT Business Marketing marketing manager Glenys Hayers says: 'This programme of web seminars has improved our communications - reaching customers we hadn't been able to before.'

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