Could program production be moving (back) into ad agencies?
Once upon a Brand: New Media Producers Creating New Forms of Branded Entertainment, a panel I attended recently, included executives at advertising agencies: Ogilvy, Havas, Huge, 360i.
Some of these executives pointed out that their clients, the advertisers, are increasingly seeking to avoid paying for media time and also want more direct access to audiences. They emphasized that advertisers want to circumvent the television networks, who have been the primary distributors of audience attention to advertisers through their programming strategies. One ad executive went so far as to predict that, because of this trend, television networks will cease being networks (program and audience attention distributors) and devolve into production studios.
Another ad exec, having been asked if the branded entertainment overseen at his agency is being produced in-house or out-of-house, admitted that more and more production is being made in-house. That particular agency had invested in more production facilities; this had improved turn-around time, reduced costs, and gave the agency more control over the content.
A similar process happened in ad agencies in the 1930s during the radio era. While many ad agencies went “out of house” to contract producers to make the entertainment that their advertising clients wanted to sponsor, ad agencies soon found it was more efficient to incorporate radio program production “in house” instead. Soon, many agencies, such as J. Walter Thompson, became program production powerhouses of top shows such as Lux Radio Theatre and Kraft Music Hall. Ad agency control of programming ended only in the late 1950s when the higher costs of television production necessitated a shift to program packaging and network program production.
Although the Once upon a Brand panelists frequently invoked the era of early television and early radio to remind the audience that sponsorship and “branded entertainment” were not new ideas, they had little idea of how sponsorship actually worked in the 1930s and 1940s. Broadcasting history in popular memory tends to begin in the 1950s, with television, just as popular memory of cinema begins in the 1930s, once synch sound arrived.
So, note to media content producers: your future customers may be ad agencies, not television networks—at least, according to these advertising agency executives, who may, of course, also be slightly exaggerating the importance of their evolving roles in media.