Last year the ANA responded to the investigation by the Department of Justice into Agency production practices and included this in their call for greater transparency in advertiser and agency relationships. The concern was that agencies and especially the Holding Companies that own the agency groups, were competitively tendering for advertiser commercial productions against the independent production companies in an unfair and biased manner.
Of course as a marketer it would be very rare that you would ever have to make this decision. The agency or the director makes most of the casting decisions for a television commercial. You the marketer will have to sign off on the talent as a matter of process. But the director of the TVC usually primarily makes the actual selection of the acting talent, after all they are supposed to be the expert. In many cases if the agency creative team has experience and enough self-confidence they will also have a lot to say when it comes to casting.
Most advertisers leave the selection of a TVC director up to the agency. And rightly so, it is often very difficult to recognise what a director has actually bought to a project apart from management and communication skills (or is this all that is required of a great director?). Let’s face it, making an audio-visual communication whether it’s a 2 hour long narrative or a 30 second TVC is a team effort. So not only do you have to be mindful of who the director is but who his or her team is, is just as important.
Recently I received an email from an “Institute” claiming that they were researching the current state of the global TVC production industry.
They said that they had read several of my posts on the TrinityP3 site and considered me to be an expert on the international TVC production industry. Of course, I was extremely flattered to be labeled as an industry expert. The email then went on to propose that I forward my insights to them so that they could incorporate them into their “white paper” on the global production industry as it now stands.
It did not take long for the penny to drop (having a healthy cynicism is one of the most important traits a production expert should have). Of course the “Institute” would use my insights and re-brand them as their own, passing themselves off as industry experts and perhaps even make an income from their new-found expertise without doing the hard yards, many years of hands-on experience and constant monitoring of the industry. So I declined their kind invitation to share my specialist knowledge with them, instead to continue to share it here with you.
The state of the television production industry
But their invitation did make me think that the current state of the TVC production industry is one of confusion, mistrust, and fear, in fact this could be said about the advertising industry in general. I will keep my generalisations to TV production and television as an advertising media.
This confusion is partly driven by the impact of technology on the advertising industry and particularly the production industry. The cost of entry into the production arena has dropped as digital technology has made production equipment and the process more cost-effective. In fact, it is so cost-effective that many companies, and particularly their marketing departments, are building video production capabilities in-house to cost-effectively produce the huge amounts of video content many marketers need for their content marketing.
So back in the early days of television onward, if you wanted to advertise on TV you went to an advertising agency and they took care of everything to do with TV advertising, from script to on-air scheduling and everything in between. But now things have changed.
Now an advertiser has a multitude of options: you can buy each and every agency service individually from any number of specialist service providers, you can bring the whole production process in-house and contract the experts you need when you need them or you can still leave it all up to the agency. The reality is that advertisers are now tailoring their production models to what suits them and their needs.
Living in a post truth world full of alternative facts and fake news may seem like a recent occurrence to some. But a real fact is that in advertising broadcast production there have been alternative facts for many years that survive the test of time and are perpetuated from one generation of agency producer to the next. These alternative facts assist the agency from having to address the issues that plague the production category and alleviate the advertiser from ever having to worry about taking action to close the loopholes these alternative facts obscure. Loop holes that allow the agency and production house to operate without accountability and at an increased margin at the advertisers expense. Here are a couple of these alternative facts and their implications from the many that shroud the advertising production category.
The international scandal from New Zealand concerning the court case between the publisher of Eminem’s song Lose Yourself and the National Party of New Zealand reminds us why advertisers should be very careful when it comes to copyright, music rights and intellectual property. During my career as a copywriter I witnessed on so many occasions situations that could easily have ended up in the same embarrassing court battle that the National Party of New Zealand is currently facing.
It was with great interest that I read an article in The Wall Street Journal (Dec 6 2016) detailing how the US Department of Justice is investigating advertising agencies in the US for manipulating the tender process especially for the production of TV commercials. The concept of the agency acting as the production company is not a new one and has been an effective way to produce television commercials in the past. What is of concern is the way the agency and their holding companies manipulate the bidding process to circumvent the competitive process and maximise the profits from their clients.
A few years ago I wrote a post on the issues associated with shooting overseas. At the time the strong Australian dollar meant that shooting offshore was an attractive opportunity for advertisers and their agencies. My how much has changed in a couple of years and with the vagaries of the foreign exchange rate.Today the Australian dollar makes shooting domestically more attractive, yet there are still many overseas markets that represent great value for advertisers, especially in a global production market hit by the low growth economic conditions.
If you believe some of the headlines there is no one advertising on television and yet the 13 and a half minutes of advertising every hour on commercial television appears to be full of commercials. The trade media are busy showcasing the latest campaigns from the major brands with the latest 60 second of 90 second director’s cut of television commercial on YouTube as the headline visual for the story. So clearly television commercial production is still happening, but perhaps not at the volume seen in the golden years of advertising and not with as many multi-million dollar budgets.
Well the OSCARS are done for another year and controversy surrounding the nominated actor’s racial ratio is all “the-buzz”. Personally I am more interested in another ratio.I am interested in the shooting ratio (see table below). Here we have a range of films including three films nominated in the Best Picture at this years Academy Awards. The shoot ratio is the number of hours and minutes shot during production compared to the actual hours and minutes that makes it onto the screen. So why am I interested in this? Because the lower the shoot ratio the lower the cost of production. Do I have your attention? Take Primer for instance. This futuristic time travel film was reportedly made on a budget of $7,000.
If you haven’t seen the Budweiser ad with Helen Mirren that played at this years Super Bowl you need to seriously consider your place in the advertising and marketing industry. Now this commercial is interesting for several reasons. This year it cost US$5 million for a 30 second spot at the Super Bowl, so the Budweiser spot a 60 second TVC, would have cost US$10 million to air just once. It is claimed that 114 million people watch the Super Bowl game live, so if everybody is watching (and not taking a pee or cooking pop corn) then the figures don’t look that bad. But my interest in this particular ad is not the media cost but the production cost.
When the credits roll on the latest Hollywood blockbuster you will notice there are a number of producer credits including Executive Producer, Producer, Effects Producer, Line Producer and the like. The producer is the person responsible for making sure the outcome gets delivered. While a television commercial is usually a smaller spend and scale than a full length feature film (but not always) it begs the question “How many producers does it take to make a television commercial?”
When did we stop using film? Not many of us really know as there has been no change to the on-air image quality of our TVCs since we all switched to digital movie cameras.
So the passing of the 35mm film camera has come and gone without a major disruption to the industry or the way we work on set or in post-production. What has happened is that the digital film camera and filmless post-production has brought change to the production process, but it would seem no cost reductions. Why is this so?