The murky lines of content (or is that media) commercialisation

Posted 6 October 2015.

By Megan Clark, Chair of the CAANZ PREScom

​That content across numerous platforms has changed exponentially over the past five years is a given in the marketing communications business.

But the implications of this change – on comms agencies, on media companies, on brands and, of course, on the end consumer – has not been thoroughly explored. Partly because change is so rapid and partly because no one knows where it’s heading.

The upcoming CAANZ PREScom Champion Speaker Series will examine the commercialisation of the media channels. It’s a hot topic that will certainly stimulate debate in the room on where the line sits between earned and paid media, the ramifications this has on agencies and their clients.

Of course it helps to define what is and what isn’t commercialised. But therein lies the rub. Because today it is incredibly difficult to tell.

The need to return profit to shareholders is a stern taskmaster and media owners are having to find new ways to gather revenue, as the wildfire spread of cheaper online and social content means traditional revenue streams, like paid advertising, have diminished.

So not only have media owners re-organised their newsrooms to an integrated (cheaper) model providing content across multiple platforms, but they have also opened their ‘pages’ and other channels to commercial deals.

Whether this is a good thing, depends on your perspective and, your experience, says Claudia Macdonald, managing director of Mango Communications who has been in the business for 30 years.

“The commercial imperatives of business are tough and I don’t blame media companies looking for new ways to make revenue. But I have long wondered how transparent media is, and conversely, whether the viewing, reading, listening public even cares.”

She says the old model of media being seen as third party endorsement, and therefore more valuable than advertising, is now questionable.

“If editorial is for sale, but still presented as ‘editorial’, then is it really earned, or paid? And if it is paid, should consumers be told?”

James Boult, Strategic Director and Principal at BEAT says when it comes to commercialised content it’s becoming increasingly cloudy what media does and what the brand sphere does.

“Where we are getting to is the merger of two spaces. In my mind, in the perfect form of commercialised content we shouldn’t be able to tell difference between that and other content produced, as appears in, for example, The LEGO movie.

“As a creative comms practitioner, I would never want to deliver something that I personally wouldn’t want to watch or enjoy. If I know that the filter of brand has been passed over content it turns me off to the story,” says Boult.

Both agree that the whole game is about expectation management.

“Many brands when they purchase a content partnership still approach it with a TVC mentality, with the gloss and brand central to the universe. On the other side, media outlets start with good content and a large audience, and say ‘now let’s commercialise it by having a brand on the show or in the magazine’.

“It will cost the brand this much money, and we will make it funny or whatever, but then it often fails as it skews from the platform that it was about in first place. The most succesful partnerships are where the brand gives guidance and advice but the content is generated by those that know audience best,” says Boult.

Boult believes that these mistakes can be avoided through education of all parties about their role.

“This means educating the client to let go of control and educating the media on how to manage client through that process. Audiences are becoming smarter, increasingly savvy and adapting at an exponential rate. And at the heart of commercialised content, it comes back to one core truth – people want content that adds value to their lives. When the brand and media channel work together to create something that adds value to people, that’s when they absolutely nail it.”

On whether media houses and brands will become interchangable Boult says there is scope for brands to become the media.

“Brands are becoming better at producing content – and there will come a point when brands are the content and the channel.”

So how does this fit with media operators that need to balance providing news with the requirement for revenue?

“The fourth estate has a job to do in keeping people up to date with what’s happening in the world and must be impartial. But as our media landscape changes and the requirement for revenue remains, there has been a strong drive from integration teams into producing content - and they do a good job of maintaining editorial integrity.

“Media outlets must have freedom behind the editorial, it’s their delivery platform, they know their audience best, they know how to capture key messages, and most importantly they understand the content people want to engage with.”