If there was ever a market that could be confident its users would happily access its content across any number of platforms, it is the increasingly inaccurately named pan-European TV sector. Its output can these days be found on its own websites, on social media sites and online video aggregators, on PDAs and mobiles and even, on occasion, on televisions.
Pan-European TV already employs more channels than most sectors in its typical ad sale, with spot buys frequently taking a back seat to packages involving tailored sponsorships, branded content, pre and post-reels and dedicated microsites.
With a relatively small market of switched-on, high-end, high-powered males in its sights, the sector that includes such niche brands as CNN, CNBC, EuroNews, Bloomberg and the Discovery Channel is increasingly morphing into a thoroughly modern broadcasting model, where content is content, irrespective of how it is delivered.
Max Raven, CNN International vice-president of advertising sales, says: "We sell the brand and the audience; we don't sell the platform.
"Advertisers don't come to us and say: 'We have got a 30-second spot, put it on TV'; they come to us and say: 'We want to get to your audience. You know your audience; tell us how to get to them'."
The pan-European TV market has grown steadily for close to 15 years now, according to annual EMS data, and, if recent figures show a market that is more or less static, that is generally felt to be a pretty good reckoning in a wider media sector in which few are holding their ground.
Nick Mawditt, head of research at CNBC, says: "The weekly EMS figures are down across the board, but the monthlies tend to be the ones we look at and they are pretty stable.
"The current picture (in pan-European television) is one of stability. We are now seeing market growth of around 1-2% per year."
The collection of pan-European broadcast brands targeting Europe's business elite is a superficially odd assortment, despite their comparable reach and coverage. Of the broadcasters most often identified with this space, CNN International is the news and business specialist that pioneered the market; CNBC and Bloomberg deal in hard financial news and analysis; Sky News and BBC World are mainstream news services; and EuroNews, while covering similar ground, is an anchor-less, multi-language service.
More idiosyncratically, but still very much within the frame of the European Marketing Survey (EMS) and European Business Readership Survey (EBRS) that define this sector, there are brands such as the National Geographic Channel, the Discovery Channel and Eurosport, which aim to appeal to a similar market by different means.
Peter Colvin, senior account director at Mediaedge:cia Global (MEC Global), says: "The pure business channels such as CNBC and Bloomberg are effectively a tool for work, consumed both within the office and before people start work. The leisure-based channels tap into a similar profile, but when people are in a more relaxed frame of mind at the end of the day. In the middle, you have got the more general current affairs channels - CNN, EuroNews, BBC World - that are news channels first and foremost, but also cover some business and leisure."
Competing for subtly different slices of a relatively small demographic is one of the major challenges for all those who occupy this market, and it is also a bone of contention among broadcasters who are accustomed to being lumped in together.
Liz Jones, CNBC Europe's vice-president and European sales director, says: "We emphasise the fact that our audience, whether online or on-air, is niche and obviously not duplicated by a CNN user. It's a case of differentiating yourself in the marketplace and making that believable to buyers and planners."
EuroNews is perhaps the most singular of all the pan-regional news outlets, offering seven different languages, half-hourly news and no on-screen presenters.
The changing media times appear to suit the broadcaster, whose weekly reach has challenged that of CNN in the past two years, with its monthly figures not far behind.
Will Nicholson, international sales director at EuroNews, says: "The turning point has been this year. We have continued to rise while some of our competitors have dropped off a bit.
"We think it is because we are on-demand in the sense that you get the news every half an hour and because you can choose which language you watch it in."
With its slick, non-traditional presentation, Nicholson refers to EuroNews as a channel that could have been invented with multi-platform broadcast in mind. Meanwhile, its rivals are working hard to reinvent themselves in a similar vein.
Platforms such as mobile, video on demand and IPTV are coming up fast behind television and online from a content delivery point of view, and the advertising opportunities are starting to appear. To take just one example, CNN has secured sponsors including Alliant, Ericsson and Lexus for its CNN mobile WAP service since April.
Nonetheless, for the time being, the real growth sector for advertising is the web.
"We recently closed a deal with Airbus where the digital revenue was 80% of the money," says Jones. "It is not the norm, necessarily, but it just shows what sort of revenues are out there if you have the product, the audience and the impressions."
For most broadcasters in the pan-European sector, the typical solution will incorporate a creative combination of TV and online properties. This readiness to carve out interesting, advertiser-friendly propositions is one of the sector's greatest strengths.
"One of the many advantages of pan-European TV channels is that they are more flexible than their local TV counterparts," says MEC Global's Colvin.
"It is far quicker, easier and more affordable to put together a partnership that embraces multiple connection points on a pan-regional level than it is in the UK."
MEC research concludes that many watchers of pan-regional TV do so in a state of "continuous partial attention". In this respect, the appointment-based lifestyle channels have a strong selling point: people who choose to watch a programme for half an hour are likely to pay more attention than they would to a rolling news service.
Annie Rodgers, Discovery Network's senior vice-president of ad sales, EMEA, says: "If you look at the viewing curve for CNN and CNBC, CNN will spike when there is a major world news story and CNBC will spike when markets open or close.
"Our viewing curve is much more like a terrestrial channel."
Discovery has scored some notable hits over the past year: the new Bear Grylls series is a premiere for Discovery in most of Europe, while shows such as Deadliest Catch, a documentary series about Bering Sea crab fishermen, have attracted a cult following.
Broadening out beyond the niche pan-European market brings with it certain challenges. Where pan-European channels score impressive mainstream ratings with particular programmes, it could be argued that they sacrifice their high-end focus.
Rodgers believes not, however. "Men aged 25 to 39 are our focus, and they are an upscale audience with disposable incomes in the same way that CNN or CNBC's viewers are," he says.
The more news-focused pan-European channels appeal very directly to the C-suite of high-net-worth individuals and opinion-formers, although in some cases it can be argued that viewers are not riveted to the screen from moment to moment.
In this respect, the diverse mobile and online news services now offered as standard by all broadcasters would seem to offer a guarantee of viewer attention that the TV alone does not.
While there is data that works hard to bring the pan-European media market to life, it is understandably less robust than a single-territory survey covering a single medium.
The EMS and EMS Select (Synovate) and EBRS (Ipsos-MORI) surveys that provide this market with its data measure brand awareness among Europe's high-earners.
Such figures need to be interpreted in a particular way, but then, so does this market. The fact that EMS respondents must take six or more international air trips year, earn at least EUR80,000, or work as a senior manager in a company of more than 10 employees, points to the fact that market size is not everything, as CNBC's Mawditt explains.
"If our audience has stayed the same size, but some are much wealthier than they were last year, that is going to be of value to banks and luxury goods manufacturers," he says.
Such is the singularity of the pan-European TV sector. And at a time when television in general fights for its status as the medium of choice, this market, as niche as it is, continues to find ways to punch above its weight.
REACHING PAN-EUROPEAN CONSUMERS: TWO CAMPAIGNS
The nature of the pan-European business is that brands will often focus their budgets on building relationships with particular broadcasters, creating dedicated campaigns using original content created by the broadcast partner.
For example, a brand partnership deal struck by the Discovery Channel with Toyota, aimed at raising awareness of the car giant's Formula One involvement, led to the creation of just such a campaign, culminating in November last year.
A series of four 60-second programmes showcased the internal workings of Toyota's Formula One operation, leading up to a full-length documentary, available across all Discovery platforms and territories worldwide. The messages of the films are general enough to work as programming while communicating Toyota's own brand values.
In a similar vein, CNN ran a branded campaign for Ericsson that used interviews with visionary thinkers to imagine what the world would look like in 2020. A series of mini films under the "Just Imagine" strapline were broadcast on-air and on a dedicated area within CNN.com.
The benefits of such an arrangement to the client are significant, says Peter Colvin, senior account director at MEC Global, which planned and booked the campaign.
He says: "It is a great way to get some relatively cheaply made TV ads, because the broadcaster will make them for a lot less than the ad agency would.
"It is also a powerful way for Ericsson to benefit from the brand halo it gets from CNN: the gravitas, the credibility and the distribution across many markets."
WHAT WILL THE AUDIOVISUAL MEDIA SERVICES DIRECTIVE MEAN FOR BROADCASTERS?
Pan-European broadcasters will have paid close attention on 24 May this year, when political agreement on the new Audiovisual Media Services Directive was reached at the Council of Ministers in Brussels.
The legislation - effectively a revised, rechristened version of the TV Without Frontiers Directive - covers European TV broadcasting and TV-like services. It governs, among other things, video-on-demand, product placement and advertising across the continent.
An original proposal to extend state control to online content didn't ultimately make the cut, leaving a directive that, while not without the occasional bone of contention, is not expected to do grievous harm to the European broadcast model.
The new rulebook is likely to be adopted at the end of the year after a second reading, after which point the UK will have two years to implement its terms.
So what are they? In addition to deleting the old 20-minute rule that dictated the minimum amount of time between ad breaks, the new directive gives EU member states the opportunity to allow product placement in films, television series, sport and light-entertainment programmes.
However, the ability of broadcasters to make the most of this new model is not a right.
Whether any given state actually allows product placement is a matter for its own discretion, and the ministers responsible in the UK have yet to exercise theirs.
The major relief for advertisers is the directive's retention of the "country of origin" principle, which dictates that broadcasters are regulated only by the country in which they are based. But it is now accompanied, more ambiguously, by a provision that allows any country to lodge complaints against overseas broadcasters transmitting within their territory that do not comply with their national rules.
Some broadcasters may still be concerned about the possibility of particular countries using the provision to make a certain broadcaster's life difficult.
However, according to Jon Zeff, director of broadcasting policy at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, who spoke at a Westminster Media Forum Keynote Seminar dedicated to the directive that took place in London on 25 July, the bar for such action is high and requires the cooperation of regulators at both European and domestic level.
This article was first published on Media Week