Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Public Service Narrrowcasting

Ofcom predicts that by 2012 100% of the UK will have digital multi-channel TV. Despite the current strength of commercial broadcasters such as Sky and Virgin this should actually be great news for Public Service Broadcasters (PSB). Niche channels for niche programmes designed for niche audiences, a real way to satisfy all tastes of our culturally and demographically varied population. Gone are the days of us young city folk liking or lumping the latest topical farming issue on the Archers. We’ll all head to the American version of the Apprentice on our channel instead.

To be fair, multi-channel TV has been around for a while now and there have been some real success stories, especially amongst the sports, movies and generic entertainment channels. But there have also been some losers, most notably the likes of science, nature, classical music and history (the clever stuff you might say). Sadly a nature programme on a nature channel will be lucky to get 1% of the audience it could have received on wide-ranging BBC2.

One could argue that this is natural selection, democracy working at its best, people voting with their index fingers. However, niche channelling is rather anti-PSB. According to Ofcom Public Service Broadcasting has a duty to:

  • increase our understanding of the world
  • stimulate our knowledge and learning
  • reflect our UK cultural identity
  • to ensure diversity and alternative viewpoints are represented

Its aim, and indeed its success, is based not just on audience size but also on its schedule range.

David Attenborough, writing for The Times, is in firm support pointing out that the role of PSB is to cater for the whole population, not segregate it – Broad-casting, not Narrow-casting. He supports this argument by suggesting that many people hold ‘allegiances’ with specific PSBs: “the notion that great numbers of people, tired after a hard day's work, come home and flip through 50-odd programme channels to decide what to view is, in fact, largely illusory.”

I’m with Attenborough on this one. As Cowper (the guy who did the “variety is the spice of life quote”) says “The earth was made so various, that the mind of desultory man, studious of change and pleased with novelty, might be divulged”. It is down to our PSBs to do this ‘divulging’ (after all, nearly all of us pay for them).

However, from an advertising perspective niche channels (whether fully commercial or part public), should be the way forward. Greater ability to target audiences, more tailored creative, better media positioning, less wastage, and so on. Yet this is often not the case, if only due to incompetent media buying. As a youngish, laddish, fan of witty banter I’m partial to a bit of Top Gear and Never Mind the Buzzcocks on ‘Dave – The Home of Witty Banter’. I’m less partial to the breast milk and tampon adverts in the breaks though.

Ultimately a wider variety of content can only be good for the consumer but the digital world is asking questions of Public Service Broadcasting and their offerings (note BBC tackling it head on with its iPlayer). As Petrarch said, “Sameness is the mother of disgust, variety the cure”. It will be interesting to see what the cure is in 2012.

Monday, 2 June 2008

Who can you trust? PART 2

I wrote a piece on trust a while back and concluded that companies are more trusted than governments, but the way in which we interact with them is crucial. A couple of weeks later I went to an Acacia Avenue seminar on the topic and decided that I’d only just scratched the surface. Delving deeper was not as easy as first thought.

Even the basic definition of trust is pretty confusing – there are 24 plausible descriptions. But the first (and presumably most read) goes as follows:

“Reliance on the integrity, strength, ability, surety, etc., of a person or thing; confidence.”

This seemed pretty solid and even pays homage to the word’s origin (it comes from a Middle Age game called “tryst” involving one set of villagers chasing a load of rabbits towards a line of club-bearers who, ‘standing in tryst’, would wait for the bunnies to arrive before bopping them dead). However, one key element, featured in other definitions and implied in the game outlined above, is missing – expectation.

This is where trust works for brands. Consumers have an expectation that brands will represent/display certain attributes. They don’t just rely on these qualities, they expect them. Stability from John Lewis (only 4 chairmen in the last 100 years), openness from Pret a Manger (recipes given away online), practising what you preach from Innocent (Fruitstock) and self-confidence from ghd (that one’s from the girls, I don’t actually have any hair to straighten).

Despite this expectation and my previous conclusions a GlobeScan survey on trust in institutions found ‘global companies’ and ‘large national companies’ to score second and third from bottom respectively. In fact, both scored negative ratings whilst ‘armed forces’ topped the table. However, a glance at Edelman’s survey on specific brand trust suggests they are far more trustworthy then the army with Johnson & Johnson, Coca-Cola and Microsoft leading the way!

So what’s going on? The key difference is in the question asked in each survey. GlobeScan measured “Trust in an institutions ability to operate in society’s best interests” whilst Edelman’s focus was simply on “Which brands do you trust”. One concentrates on the community and one on the individual. It pains me to say it, but Thatcher spotted the importance of this difference a while back – “There’s no such thing as society. There are only individual men and women”.

I don’t agree with her sentiments but recognising this difference is essential for the poor performing ‘global companies’. Ultimately people still crave community (think London Marathon, Diana’s funeral, Facebook, reaction to Thatcher’s comment, etc) and it is one of the original pillars of trust. Brands are our bunny-boppers.

So is the trick nowadays to think community/society and not just individual? Perhaps – Coca-Cola and Microsoft are fighting AIDs, HP are saving the forests, everyone's chasing 'green trends', and so on. Maybe we’re not in the age of the individual after all?

Hmm… this may need a Part 3. Until then, I’m sticking with Bob Dylan – “If you want somebody you can trust, trust yourself”.