Anita Davis
Mar 26, 2009

All About... Branded TV channels

Is the launch of a sign of things to come?

All About... Branded TV channels
The recent soft launch of, the brand’s dedicated online video offering, brings the issue of branded TV channels back onto the marketing agenda. Brands have been experimenting with their own TV channels for several years, but the jury is still out on their effectiveness. Do ventures such as have what it takes to capture long-term audiences, or do they risk becoming expensive follies?

1The concept of a branded channel hit the headlines in 2005, when Audi launched Audi TV, a 24-hour channel about cars, auto sports and Audi news on the Sky digital pay-TV platform in the UK. The principal benefit was control over the advertising environment. The marketing director at Audi UK commented at the time: “The decision to extend from advertiser to broadcaster was born of growing frustration with a fragmenting media marketplace”.

Since then, brands including Adobe, BMW, Budweiser, Dove, Lexus and Mercedes-Benz have gone down a similar route.

2Launching this sort of channel became possible in the West initially due to the rise of pay-TV platforms, and in particular the shift to digital transmission methods that allowed the platforms to carry many more channels, and hence to offer access to their platforms more cheaply. However, the rise of online video sites means that more recent attempts at branded TV have been via websites - and being prime examples. The latter offers adidas video clips that can be downloaded from a free branded player.

3 For brands interested in this sort of service, implementation is straightforward. Biraja Swain, director of digital and emerging media for OMD, says the first step is to consolidate all video assets across the globe and then choose to create a brand channel (such as YouTube, Joost or Hulu) and incorporate it within the brand’s site — something most digital agencies are capable of doing.

4Success, however, is far from guaranteed. For example, Bud.TV, Budweiser’s channel, shut down last month after one year. According to analysts, the brand pulled the plug because it had limited means of consumption - audiences couldn’t access the programmes any way they wanted. It was also an expensive endeavour for the brand to create its own content stream; Swain says Bud.TV cost US$15 million to sustain.

“None of the branded channels has been successful, primarily due to lack of content and distribution from the brand side,” Swain says. “The primary reason is that all these brands pushed their platform as a destination site rather than opting for a distribution approach. The moment you had sites like YouTube and Hulu, people flocked there as they could see a variety of content, which was sharable and portable.”

That view is shared by Gavin Cranston, director of client services at Proximity Shanghai. “Clients need to make it relevant by finding a niche and making their product different or they’re competing against YouTube and the million other video sites out there,” he adds. He argues that could work because of the celebrities it sponsors and their appeal to audiences. “But with Bud.TV, guys running around drinking beer all the time may not be so relevant. Budweiser didn’t do anything more than produce a quick form of entertainment.”

5Swain adds that has the most promising model he has seen to date. Its clips can be embedded into blogs and 25 different social networks. According to Cranston, the goal is to make these sites truly viral.

Yet as the focus of branded TV moves away from providing a single destination toward viral content distribution, the concept of a standalone channel seems less relevant. Kenneth Andrew, marketing director of Microsoft Advertising Asia-Pacific, argues that brands should be concentrating more on creating content which can then be promoted on third-party platforms. “They should be trying to push content to my existing digital world as opposed to trying to convince me to go to their own TV experience,” he says. “I would have to be pretty impressed by the constant updating of content to convince me to keep visiting a dedicated brand TV channel and for it not to feel like an extended advertorial.”

What it means for…

- The idea of a branded TV channel has moved beyond operating an actual channel to being a way to organise and consolidate existing video content. For that reason, online is the obvious platform for most brands.

- Brands should not even think about this unless they can provide a steady stream of content that will consistently be relevant to the target audience.

- The goal should be to offer consumers as many ways to share the content as possible.

Media owners
- Despite Audi’s early experiments on pay-TV, branded TV channels are unlikely to rival proper television stations for viewers. They are more likely to pick up casual viewing, for example, in the office.

- However, online media owners argue that brands are better off distributing their content through third parties rather than their own channels.

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