Sunday 21 October 2018

Ad agencies unimpressed by UTV's lack of plans

TV advertising in the Republic is worth over €200m a year - but will the arrival of UTV Ireland rock this boat, asks Michael Cullen

The Regular: Julie Goodyear as Bet Lynch in a vintage episode of ‘Coronation Street’. But what else will UTV Ireland bring to the Republic’s viewers?
The Regular: Julie Goodyear as Bet Lynch in a vintage episode of ‘Coronation Street’. But what else will UTV Ireland bring to the Republic’s viewers?

In the absence of news on its programme plans and business model, advertising agencies are showing little appetite for the new UTV Ireland TV station being launched in Ireland at the start of 2015.

Ahead of what is expected to be a fiercely fought audience battle, agencies are frustrated with UTV over the lack of information that will help it win share in the TV market south of the border.

Conor Hanover, who is in charge of trading and accountability at Omnicom Media Group (OMG), says UTV Ireland has announced nothing new as yet, creating a climate of uncertainty in adland. "Apart from talking up its news and current affairs output - both of which are well covered by RTE - and its exclusive rights to Coronation Street and Emmerdale, UTV's offer to advertisers is uninspiring," Hanover added.

Media director at Javelin Advertising, Ruth Payne is "underwhelmed" by UTV Ireland's launch. "What will they bring to the market that's different? The stations already have their strengths. I'm not convinced there's a gap in the market," Payne says. "Where's advertising going to come from? Not from other media."

Payne does not think the new station will affect cost per thousand (CPT), which is what agencies use to calculate for client spends on TV advertising.

Noel McCarthy, broadcast manager at Carat, says UTV Ireland is relying a lot on Coronation Street and Emmerdale and ITV content to win viewers, especially home makers and 25- to 44-year-olds. He reckons the new station may take anywhere from 8pc to 12pc total impact, but it's hard to be any more definite at this point. UTV Ireland does not plan to commission programmes until next year, which means the new shows won't roll out until 2016.

But until it announces details of its trading and pricing policies, it's hard for agencies to make any real assumptions. Like Hanover and Payne, McCarthy feels that UTV Ireland is unlikely to discount heavily on ad rates. Issues relating to where it will be on Sky's electronic programme guide (EPG) and Sky rights still need to be resolved.

Responding to agency criticisms, a UTV Ireland spokesman said they will host a sneak preview for advertisers and media in mid-August to give people a sense of what they will see when the channel launches.

TV advertising in the Republic is expected to be worth €205m in 2014, with RTE accounting for about €95m. The top 10 advertisers to June this year, based on ratings bought rather than spend, were Procter & Gamble, Unilever, Sky, Reckitt Benckiser, L'Oreal, Lidl, Diageo, UPC, Kelloggs and Aldi. RTE had the biggest share of viewing with 27pc, followed by TV3 on 13.2pc and Sky Media's 12.4pc. UTV, as we know it, had just a 2.9pc share.

Comparisons between average audience figures for Coronation Street and Emmerdale on TV3 and UTV in the Republic are worth noting. Payne says the adult audience for Corrie on UTV peaks at 175,800, compared to 639,800 on TV3.

The number of home makers who normally tune into the soap on UTV comes to 118,800, while over on TV3 the average home maker audience is 381,300. So, there's no doubt, TV3 stands to lose out.

But TV3, owned by British private equity fund manager Doughty Hanson, is not taking the threat posed by UTV Ireland lying down. At an agency breakfast briefing to launch 3Solutions , TV3 executives stressed the advertising and product placement (PP) options available to brands on its current schedule, including working with established shows like Ireland AM and Xpose.

Brand solutions director Paula McCarthy - a sponsorship executive TV3 almost lost to UTV Ireland a few months back - said Ireland's only breakfast show will soon move to the Sony HD Studio and Xpose will be extended to an hour from early September. McCarthy claims TV3/3e has over 700,000 fans on Facebook and Twitter.

As UTV Ireland has a ready-made radio network in place to help make noises about its launch, with FM104 and Q102 in Dublin and several local stations around the country, TV3 has agreed a partnership with Denis O'Brien's Communicorp radio network. But the agency executives attending the breakfast really wanted some drama. They were anxious to hear more about TV3's new soap, Red Rock, and what it can offer on the commercial front.

A panel of Red Rock producers and writers, with experience of working on Coronation Street, Casualty, Fair City and Ros na Run, were asked a series of innocuous questions by Today FM's Anton Savage. What emerged from the carefully choreographed chat was that Red Rock will be a twice-a-week half-hour show, based in a fictional north Dublin coastal town with a garda station at the centre of things.

Ed Guiney of Element Productions, whose movies include The Guard, starring Brendan Gleeson, and Lenny Abrahamson's Adam and Paul and What Richard Did, said Red Rock will be "a bit edgy". The storyline will not be nostalgic or about a world that doesn't exist. The use of a single camera and out-and-about locations will give it a more feature film-like authenticity. Casting is underway and shooting starts in October, with ongoing filming working to a few months ahead. Being TV3, calls will be made to potential title sponsors.

As regards the show's product placement opportunities, TV3 will be open to offers for a grocery shop - perhaps along the lines of RTE's Fair City Spar store - a branded cafe; a bus shelter, where brands can be digitally superimposed within 24 hours; and the mobile phones used by the actors. Paula McCarthy also says they will be on the lookout for a clothing partner to tie in with a family featuring in the show, with the fashion line available to buy online.

Red Rock writer and senior producer editorial Gareth Philips knows a thing or two about product placement on soaps, not least through his involvement with Coronation Street. He accepts the commercial value of allowing brands exposure but is adamant that any placements must be right in the sense that the brand needs to fit in with the soap's tone and "not be in people's faces" for no good reason other than to clock up ad revenue.

TV3 is also teaming up with WPP-owned research agency Millward Brown and with Repucom and MirriAd, two UK companies which forensically analyse PP's value for major advertisers. Clients include Unilever, Intel, Coca-Cola, Samsung, P&G, PepsiCo and Red Bull.

So, on what days and at what time will viewers get to see Red Rock? TV3 and Element are keeping tight-lipped about the designated airtime, for now.

But given the few windows open which don't clash with the current soaps, agencies believe the most likely time slot will be 8.30pm on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Given that slot's closeness to the watershed, it may also provide Element with scope for more adult storylines. Either way, TV3 will be hoping viewers find the police drama an arresting experience.

Michael Cullen is editor of magazine;

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