FOCUS: BUSINESS TELEVISION - Switching on to the benefits of the box/Business television is the latest way forward-looking companies are communicating with staff. But is it the answer for you? Mary Cowlett reports

In its purest form, business television (BTV) broadcasts programmes live by satellite to employees watching TV monitors or screens. It is only really suitable for large organisations with a substantial, widespread workforce. For many others, video is a more viable option. So before you take the plunge, ask yourself some questions.

In its purest form, business television (BTV) broadcasts programmes

live by satellite to employees watching TV monitors or screens. It is

only really suitable for large organisations with a substantial,

widespread workforce. For many others, video is a more viable option. So

before you take the plunge, ask yourself some questions.

Is BTV the right choice for your company?

The prime reason to invest in a television network is to drive an

internal culture change among a large, decentralised audience.

According to Nick Chaloner, director of corporate affairs at Abbey

National, this was the rationale behind the launch of Abbey Vision last


To live up to its new brand promise, ’Because life’s complicated

enough’, the company created a programme tailored for front-line retail

staff working in branches across the UK.

Delivered by satellite, this 20-minute weekly broadcast covers news and

marketing information and complements the monthly group internal

communications programme, Abbey View.

How should you set objectives?

Rather than get carried away with BTV as a technology toy, it is

important to consider how the power of visual communication will

strengthen internal messages and create a sense of corporate


’We recommend that all companies start with some sort of communications

audit to examine what channels are already available and what the

current mindset is,’ says Stephen Watson, managing director of

production company CTN.

How do you choose the right supplier?

Like finding a good builder, it is vital to study track record. Now that

BTV is an established industry, it is easy to check out company claims

from a wealth of case studies.

Neil Ormsby, business development director at production company APTN,

warns: ’The market tends to divide into two distinct areas of


You need to ensure a supplier has experience in both programme

production and satellite or other distribution methods.’

In addition, much depends on the creative treatment. Shell

International, which has a well-established satellite network, uses

different production companies for different projects. Last December’s

much publicised announcement of a new five-year plan by Shell’s

committee of managing directors was produced by The Edge. But TV company

Myriad made last month’s management restructuring broadcast for the Oil

Products division.

Are there any guidelines for deciding the content?

The main thrust of a broadcast should be inspiration and motivation,

rather than a deluge of information.

While one-off programmes announcing annual results or a merger are a

practical idea, mountains of data or complicated graphics are always

more print-friendly.

’The most important question to ask yourself is who the audience are and

why on earth would they would bother to watch,’ says Jacaranda joint

managing director, Gus Colquhoun. His company has been producing regular

staff communication programmes for The Body Shop since 1989. The main

global programme, BSTV World, is seen by all staff in 1,500 shops in 46

different countries, and is translated into 21 languages.

Colquhoun says the challenge is to create a monthly programme that

appeals to predominantly TV-literate women aged between 18 and 25. ’This

means no men in suits and nothing even remotely resembling a corporate

video,’ he says.

How do you ensure editorial integrity?

It is easy for BTV to lose its credibility and slip into some kind of

big brother management speak, so most organisations use professional


For instance, BT’s fortnightly programme, BT Vision, is fronted by

freelance Deborah Hall. BATV at British Airways uses Claire Bishop, who

works for ITN World Service, and Mark Jeffries, a presenter of Channel

5’s Serious Money.

With no corporate axe to grind, these independent interviewers can put

management on the spot and provide a well-rounded story.

BATV editor, David Wilson, says: ’All the research we have done shows

that staff feel BATV brings a clarity and balance to issues. People do

not see it as just a corporate machine because we challenge managers to

justify their actions to the workforce.’

With several years’ experience of BTV, both BT and BA also realise the

benefit of taking programmes out of the studio to live and breath among

the workforce. Staff reporters comment on their own areas of expertise

and senior management are seen in situations outside their day-to-day

business responsibilities.

How important is the delivery method?

Satellite’s greatest selling point has always been that it is live and

facilitates interaction. However, many argue that for some organisations

satellite is redundant. Their broadcasts tend to be watched on video

after the event. But, recorded or not, viewers of satellite programmes

are still watching unscripted ’live’ TV.

Its claims to interactivity are not so easy to justify. In a question

and answer programme, only a chosen few from a large workforce are ever

going to get their voice heard on air. It is only after a broadcast that

meaningful discussion among co-workers can take place.

Ralph Pitman, head of internal communications at the Halifax, says: ’If

it’s interaction you’re after, team meetings are better. You can run

phone-ins and live debates on TV, but you still can’t beat getting

people in a room, talking to each other.’

How much will BTV cost?

According to Robin White, head of broadcasting at Shell International,

one of the reasons his company chose BTV in 1997 was the dramatic fall

in costs. ’Satellite time used to cost around pounds 6,000 for a few

minutes,’ he says. ’Now, for less than pounds 500, you can broadcast for

an hour to the whole of Europe.’

Obviously, a major outlay for satellite is the initial hardware costs,

but even this is getting cheaper. In the UK, installing everything from

the dish to internal viewing connections should cost around pounds 1,000

per site, according to both BT and French telecom company,


More interesting, perhaps, is that price does not appear to effect the

choice between live and recorded programming.

According to CTN’s Watson, the budget for a one-off, high quality,

20-minute live broadcast should range from pounds 15,000 upwards,

depending on variables such as outside broadcasts. Curiously, this is

the exact same starting figure recommended by most video


Is it wise to defer splashing out on the latest satellite BTV packages

until the problems of intranet delivery have been ironed out?

’I think it is very foolish to invest in satellite technology at this

time’ says Jacaranda’s Colquhoun.

He voices the opinion of many when he suggests that improved ISDN and

data technology could ultimately bring broadcast quality BTV to the

desktop, turning satellite equipment into a hefty white elephant.

But just how long will these advances take? Widespread, cost-effective,

PC-friendly BTV has been ’just around the corner’ for a few years


Unsurprisingly, those involved in satellite services are sceptical that

real-time transfer of interactive video over computer LANs (Local Area

Networks) will ever live up to the hype. ’Those who wait, will have to

wait a very long time,’ says APTN’s Ormsby.

Integration appears to be the key, certainly for the foreseeable


As William Pitt, account manager at GlobeCast, says: ’People need to

grasp that technology is always moving forward; there will never be a

definitive point at which it is right or wrong to invest.’

How should you evaluate the benefits of BTV to your business?

Over the past few years, people have highlighted savings in paper-based

communications, travel expenses and senior management’s time as benefits

of a television network. However, this seems to be missing the


BTV is not a substitute, but the right tool for a specific job.

As BTV does not operate in isolation, its impact is hard to


But the most common measurement is to conduct research into BTV’s role

in helping staff understand business objectives and their job. In

organisations where the majority of the workforce is customer-facing,

the impact of effective visual communication can be enormous.

The Body Shop founder, Anita Roddick, says: ’Motivated and informed

staff mean we have no need to advertise. BSTV helps save our company the

pounds 10 million or so per year that our competitors spend on



The Halifax group is made up of various parts, the most familiar of

which is probably its network of high street banks.

But it also owns a large chain of estate agencies, has a Treasury

department, and operates from ten corporate sites, including one for

telephone banking, in and around Halifax.

In 1995, to coincide with a merger with the Leeds Permanent Building

Society, Halifax decided to revitalise its staff relations. ’The Halifax

opted for BTV because it needed to make a major improvement to its

top-down communications,’ says Ralph Pitman, head of internal


’The senior management team realised that the organisation had a

structure which was perfect for BTV, with thousands of employees spread

about the country in hundreds of locations.’ This decision was not taken

lightly: initial costs for installing satellite hardware, including

dishes, decoders and monitors, were close to pounds 5 million.

Today, Halifax Televison (HTV) broadcasts to around 36,000 employees at

1,600 sites across the UK. But, unlike most other BTV users, the company

does not employ outside programme-makers. Instead, the Halifax has its

own studios and editing suite and only uses contractors to handle the

technical aspects.

The ten-strong HTV team produces ten programmes. The first, Halifax

Television News (HTN), is a six-minute news segment broadcast

fortnightly to all staff throughout the group. The others are targeted

to certain audiences and have more specific objectives. For instance,

the programme for front-line retail staff focuses on products and

marketing initiatives. It looks at key selling points and gives tips

from particularly successful branches.

Another programme delivers training, while a third is aimed at


The latter usually takes the form of an unscripted question and answer

session between the senior management team and managers from across the


According to Pitman, the Halifax believes that using a strong internal

team to produce these programmes allows it to keep output tightly

focused on meeting business objectives. ’With ten different programmes,

each doing a different job, we have to have very close relationships

with all parts of the business,’ he says. ’An in-house team has the

advantage of being close to the top team while also, as employees

themselves, understanding what the audience is thinking.’

Tracking research on the reaction to programmes seems to bear this

theory out. It shows that 88 per cent of staff believe they have a

better understanding of business objectives because of HTV.


Sainsbury’s invested in BTV in September 1996 as part of a strategy to

encourage open dialogue at the heart of its business. The supermarket

giant installed satellite technology to link up 500 sites and around

160,000 staff across the UK.

Today, Sainsbury’s SMART Network broadcasts once a fortnight on


The flagship programme for store managers, It’s The Business, goes out

live on the first Tuesday of every month. The magazine format includes

news items, outside broadcasts and usually a phone-in.

The past two-and-a-half years have been a learning process for all


Initially, group chief executive Dino Adriano and colleagues were not

used to answering unseen questions from staff. Similarly, store managers

were shy of challenging the senior management team. Now Adriano has

become a real ratings winner and employees are happy to ask his opinion

on key issues.

Lisa Baitup, Sainsbury’s internal communications manager, says BTV has

also developed in other ways. ’We have found new ways of using the

medium to help our staff understand how the company is run and to

improve their individual performance,’ she says. Phone-in shows with

senior managers take a short break in the middle for the different

audience groups to discuss the issues among themselves.

Programme restructuring has also increased participation and generated

more frequent special broadcasts. The most significant of these was last

May when the SMART Network relayed an address by Adriano on the

company’s annual results from a meeting of senior management at the

National Gallery.

Retail is such a fast moving environment that one-off bulletins also

play a big part in communicating information updates to staff. Most

recently, this has included a food safety programme and changes to

Sainbury’s Reward Card offers.

However, the greatest change took place 18 months ago, when Sainsbury’s

built its own studio at head office in London. This has saved time and

money and increased the input of the senior management team. The number

of outside broadcasts from sites around the UK has risen, so Adriano,

especially, is now more likely to be able to contribute to


Baitup hopes to continue encouraging even more involvement. ’It hasn’t

been easy to get a good level of partnership,’ she says ’but we’re

developing new ways to encourage people to join in.’ She thinks the

greatest challenge will be maintaining the momentum of BTV without

losing sight of the need to be relevant.

’We’re still looking to increase interactivity, but our audience’s prime

objective is to serve the customer; we can’t dictate what they will be

interested in.’


Investing in a full, satellite delivery BTV system is not always the

most suitable option. Last year, TNT underwent a massive internal and

external programme to prepare for Stock Exchange listing. It launched a

new corporate identity to revamp its image and position itself as the

global expert in express distribution, logistics and mail.

TNT has expanded far beyond its roots in Australia to encompass a

variety of operations and brands worldwide. Its future business

objectives demanded a whole new corporate culture.

For such a radical rethink to work, it was vital for TNT to involve

employees closely in the process. The company hired internal

communications specialists Banner McBride, part of the WPP Group, to

explain the rationale for rebranding and communicate positive

motivational information.

TNT has 55,000 employees around the world. Banner McBride decided visual

communication was the most effective way to deliver undiluted messages

directly to them. The agency asked Jacaranda to make a series of three

programmes to explain the new corporate identity and to announce its

plans for going public. Between April and June 1998, all TNT staff in

more than 200 countries watched the three videos, dubbed into their

native language where necessary.

’The first film was designed to stimulate interest and create an

understanding of why we needed to change,’ says Stefan Nerpin, TNT’s

internal corporate communications manager.

’The second was able to show the new identity in action, explain why we

had to change in this way and give the brand personality.’ The third

film celebrated the corporate identity launch in Liege, Belgium,

relating it to the Stock Exchange listing, and unveiled a new

advertising concept.

The internal communications programme included information packs and

local events. But there was a specifically good reaction to the films,

and feedback from an internal research questionnaire sent to employees

in 13 countries was excellent.

The TNT management was similarly impressed. ’We needed to develop a

monolithic brand which would embrace all our different activities and

bring them together on a business, social and visual level,’ says


’Video communication, together with face-to-face local communication,

formed the spine of this internal communications project, as it combined

both rational information and the ability to boost emotions in a way

that the printed word alone cannot,’ Nerpin concluded.

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Already registered?
Sign in