Thursday, 23 October 2008

Discovery goes free to air

Discovery have secured a slot on Freeview, which will be used to screen the factual and entertainment programming which has made the network famous. I’ve not heard anything about what it’s to be called, but for me it’s a bold and very exciting move.

Discovery had previously agreed to supply factual and entertainment content for Sky’s ‘Picnic’ Freeview service. Picnic though was canned earlier in the year and Discovery have clearly decided it’s time for their content to get a wider airing.

...And bravo to them. Its a big step. Discovery’s whole model is pay TV; the business is geared to deliver large numbers of impacts – no-matter what the flavour. Moving onto Freeview presents all kinds of interesting challenges for the network.

Networks who deliver general impacts have limited commercial need in appealing to sought after audiences (clearly non core income streams are the exception here). As such the programming supported on air and ATL tends to be mass market – and doesn’t need to be terribly aspirational. As soon as a network starts chasing premium audiences all this changes.
I think there’s an interesting parallel hear to MTV and TMF.

MTV launched TMF in the wake of the ITV digital debarcle. The aim was to gain a free to air footprint to compliment the main channels. Today TMF is the larger channel and presents some interesting questions for the network going forward.

MTV had the advantage that their content is (in the main)short form – music videos, which means that they are able to show the same things on both channels without consumers feeling ripped off for having to pay for MTV when TMF is free.

So this is the question for Discovery, how do you brand a free to air channel whilst preserving the premium nature of your existing network?

It’ll also be interesting to see what becomes of their flagship shows currently re-airing on terrestrial...

All in all a bold and exciting move.

Millennium Humbug.

Now, many people might think it’s a little late to be writing about the millennium, it being 2008 and all. I saw today that Addidas have become the latest brand to become a ‘founding sponsor’ of the O2 - the run away success which is now (apparently) the most successful entertainment venue in the world - and it got me thinking... Why is it now considered such a success? And what changed?

Well, loads.

The content for a start. No more well-meaning exhibitions, pumping out platitudes about the body, God and god knows what else, for a start.

Instead AEG, the Giant American entertainment specialists have brought together a wealth of venues and experiences in their ‘little leisure city’ model which has been rolled out across the world many times before.

So the content has changed – and that’s great. But the content was never the concept for the Millennium Dome. The Dome was meant to be a celebration of the turning of the years; something great to mark the passage of time.

Criticising the Dome because of its content was always a bit like saying the telly was a rubbish invention because Richard and Judy is crap. The idea of the Dome was sound – something big and impressive to mark Y2k.

At the time I was a big supporter of the Dome. While others scoffed I was standing back, admiring the sunrise against its majestic outline, saying ‘wow, just look at it...’

If we look back at London’s three major physical projects for the Millennium I think we can all be fairly proud of ourselves... The Millennium Wheel, The Millennium Bridge and the Dome are all crackers... absolute aesthetic dynamite.

I’ve been lucky enough to be involved in all three since their conception (The Silver Surfer at the Millennium Eye, The Simpsons premiere at the O2 and... a dodgy Japanese TV interview about ‘wobbliness’ on th bridge) and will continue to cheerlead for them into the future.

I love ‘em and love the fact that we built them.

The points I want to make are threefold:

1) Isn’t it great that in the face of public criticism, we continue to build big shiny things? God knows if we didn’t we’d all live in Stoke.

2) Will the press please PACK IT IN! Printing obvious rabble rousing stories designed to shift copies rather than deliver news... YOU ARE NEWSPAPERS (or news programmes) for goodness sake. Yes it’s easy to doomsay, yes it sells...just stop it. I refer to the effects of the media on the recent credit crisis to evidence my point.

3) Well done AEG for their model of brand involvement.
There’s nothing overtly new in what the O2 is doing for founder partners – Mobile phone companies in particular have been giving perks to members for years – what is new is the iconic status of the focus of the activity. Getting priority tickets or parking (BMW) to the O2 really means something to customers.

All in all it’s a great story. Let’s all just be a little less quick to step on exciting new projects (Anyone or Olympics?)... you never know, they might just turn out really, really good.

Monday, 20 October 2008

In praise of Cbeebies

I’ve spent a fair bit of time in the past talking about commercial TV stations, their various machinations, positionings and evolutions. So I thought I should expend a few minutes singing the praises of one of our license funded channels which I’ve recently begun to spend a lot of time with and which I think manages to achieve something most commercial offerings fail on.
I'm talking about Cbeebies.

I believe that TV stations (and indeed all brands) prosper when they put the needs of their consumers at the heart of their business. Weird as it may sound I’ve sat around tables with television professionals, deciding on new directions for their channels without any real insight (beyond the qualitative) into the lifestyles and needs of their target.

I’ve no idea what research/insight/genius was tapped when Cbeebies was first cooked up... but it’s great. It mirrors almost perfectly the lifestyle and needs of its consumers – the tots and their parents, not just in tone, but in programming, scheduling and well... here are some examples:
Cbeebies kicks off with some involving, primary coloured high jinks – stuff that’ll keep your tots wrapped up while you tidy up after brekkie, or whatever it is you do early on.

At 12 – the time when nearly every mum/dad times their kids main protein feed, they have a lunch hour. Preceded by the magnificent ‘In the Night Garden’ and opened by a ‘time for lunch’ song, which has my young daughter rubbing her belly and doing the baby sign for food.
The afternoon builds with big fun time, a mix of high tempo stuff and gentle entertainment – some of the programming is unmissable. I recommend ‘Nuzzle and Scratch’ (available on the iplayer should you want it), - a reworking of the classic chuckle brothers formula, with Alpacas – genius; as well as ‘Space Pirates’ – go online and check the theme tune.
The day closes with gentle programming and bedtime stories.
In short it mirrors the day perfectly. Strikes the right note, and has programming that delivers on all its promises.

It’s not necessarily something that could be repeated by a commercial player – the fact that there are no ads for example ads to the sense of trust. However there is loads that can be learnt about building a schedule that fits the needs of your viewers.

Saturday, 18 October 2008

UKTV rebrandarama

I am a simple man, and frequently in marketing it pays to be simple. It means the more complicated things go sailing happily by whilst I can still enjoy the less highbrow side of life. Recently though I’ve been getting a bit confused. You see, UKTV are at it again, rebranding channels left right and centre, in line with their – ‘give it a new name and a sense of direction’ strategy which worked so well for Dave.
Where are we so far... Dave a channel for blokes like me (pretty good but wearing a little thin on material now).
Watch... some things that are great to Watch apparently. Hmmmm ok. It’s snappy and does what it says on the tin.
Eden... some inspirational programmes about Earth.
I like this. It’s all good concise stuff and UKTV surely needs to do something before we all switch over to digital and switch off to the networks message. My interest in all this is to do with babies and bathwater... which is to say; surely the network added something to consumer understanding.
I mean fine we’ll still have on air navigation which should help a bit, but as a consumer getting messages for Eden on Dave or Watch on Dave or Eden or whatever, doesn’t I think present a coherent family of channels.
I think that in a digital age it is of vital importance that a network exhibits strong network behaviour, and that this behaviour is reflective of what the group of channels stands for. It allows for a much bigger conversation.
The real problem for UKTV wasn’t a lack of direction for their channels; it was that their network had no sense of purpose. Rebranding the stations is a neat trick, and will work in the short term (at least until fresh, desirable programming dries up), But to my mind it is a job half done.
Oh and I still can’t hear watch without seeing lumps of plastacine whirling around to flute music.

Monday, 13 October 2008

Great customer service

Excellent Customer Service

I seem to spend most of my time these days on the wrong end of one of those calls to customer services complaining about something or other, or more often than not just trying to get the very basic level of service you would expect as a valued customer.

The other day for instance I was on the phone to Start-Rite, from whom I’d bought my daughter’s first pair of shoes; which rather unfortunately started to fall to bits two weeks after purchase. After a lengthy wait and a few attempts to talk to someone from the customer services department (which apparently they don’t have...) I finally managed to speak to someone who informed me – as an opening gambit, ‘We have no legal obligation to help you’... Now my purpose here isn’t to bash Start-Rite, who eventually managed to solve my issue. You’ll be pleased to know that I have a different and wholly more pleasant purpose.
The other day (here we go again), I found myself on the phone to Ladybird books. A brief bit of history - My sister had bought my daughter a book (Noisy Noisy Boo – it’s about monsters), which sadly didn’t make any noise (as advertised).
After 4 rings the phone was answered by an alert sounding lady. I explained my problem. She asked my name and address. ‘OK sir, we’ll put another in the post for you today.’ I nearly choked on my cornflakes!
‘What that’s it?’ I asked. ‘You don’t need me to send it back or anything?’
‘Well you can if you like sir, but it doesn’t matter if you don’t.’
I went to the sorting office today to pick up my parcel... which had arrived the next day (when I was out). I immediately opened the parcel to give my expectant daughter her prize... and what should I find? Not one, but two books with a little hand written note apologising for the trouble and offering the second book as a free gift!
Customer service is the most important thing in business. It’s the most important marketing tool. It ensures that those customers that already by into you, keep doing so. Ladybird get this and it is to their immense credit.
I’m off to a mothers group this evening and I intend to bore them all to death about how good ladybird are. My Niece is also very very likely to get a ladybird book for her birthday.
And the really good news is that in a digitally connected world, this type of strong customer service has a much more powerful effect than ever before. I’m writing about it, you’re reading it and hopefully there’ll be a few more people well disposed to ladybird than ever before.