HTC looks beyond YouTube as it primes Virgin Media’s TiVo as branded content hub

HTC is focusing its branded content on Virgin Media’s web-connected TiVo service as it looks for further distribution beyond YouTube.

Trevor Nelson

HTC is looking to develop its branded content strategy following a series of successful campaigns using Virgin Media’s web-connected TiVo service. The smartphone manufacturer is currently promoting its Community Projects initiative on TiVo, having already hosted branded content environments for two previous campaigns, the latest starring artist Emile Sande (pictured), via the same platform. HTC’s head of marketing for UK and Ireland James Atkins said branded content is becoming an increasingly important part of its overall marketing mix. Virgin Media’s TiVo branded content hub is relatively unpopulated compared to other online platforms including YouTube, which have become “saturated” with content, according to Atkins. “At the moment HTC has a fairly free run at branded content within TiVo making it pretty exclusive real estate, whereas YouTube is highly saturated so trying to achieve stand-out is challenging,” he said. Virgin Media began positioning its web-enabled TiVo platform as a hub for branded content following a tie-up with Mercedes Benz earlier this year and a series of ad trials last year with Gillette, Blackberry, Dreams and Honda.HTC saw an average dwell time of 18 minutes for the first campaign run on the platform this Spring, which featured a student photographer shooting its ad campaign while freefalling out of an aeroplane, with later iterations remaining in the double digits, according to Atkins. “With a piece of branded advertising in an online environment you’ll be lucky if you get 60 seconds dwell time.” The documentary-style creative has been core to generating the right level of engagement, with viewers more compelled to watch it as a piece of standalone content rather than an ad, he said. Its branded content activity across all the campaigns has including behind-the-scenes videos, competitions and different video creative. Meanwhile it has notched up 10,000 views on TiVo for its Community Project content, which will run until early next year. The campaign encourages budding social entrepreneurs to pitch ideas for supporting their local communities. The winner will receive a series of mentoring sessions from Trevor Nelson (pictured), and support from HTC, and will appear in their own online documentary tracking their journey. HTC will continue to monitor engagement with the view to exploring how to develop its branded content strategy beyond the TiVo hub alone further down the line. This could include integrating branded content further into the rest of its marketing activity, according to Atkins. “By the time this campaign ends if we find the content has been engaging enough and has continued to hold an audience then the next stage will perhaps be to start driving people to our branded content areas, and even using trailer-type content to do so – like a TV broadcaster would to drive people to its shows.”Dual-screen activity is an area the brand is keen to develop, according to Atkins. “We are monitoring how people are consuming media and all new routes to market, including second screen and will look at how we can we take content to the next level with the use of second screen," he said. Virgin Media commercial director Mark Brandon said it is vital brands look beyond using YouTube alone for branded content distribution. “For ages now brands have agonised over not only what content to create, but increasingly, what to then do with that content once they have created it. Most of the answers to that has been to stick it on YouTube and while that’s great for Google clicks it is not necessarily the way to generate success and justify the cost investment, and proper content is not cheap to develop,” he said. Branded content has had multiple false dawns but now big brands are really embracing it, according to Brandon. “The HTC campaign is a shining example of where branded content could go. People are happy to give their attention as long as there is a clear value exchange…the content must look, smell and feel like content, not advertising” he said. HTC’s content sits on the Discovery bar located at the top of the TiVo home screen. Viewers can then click through on the tile to visit the rest of the branded content, which has led to high dwell times. Virgin Media is considering how to offer more targeting capabilities for advertisers beyond traditional demographics, which could include interest and “attitudinal-based” targeting, according to Brandon. This would initially be for its video-on-demand (VOD) ad sell but it will never overstep the mark by using personally identifiable customer data. “Is leveraging the behaviour and viewer data to provide more personal advertising part of the strategy – we’re certainly thinking about it, but the way we approach things has to be customer-first. We will proceed cautiously. But if there is a scenario when we use what we know to provide better, more relevant ad solutions and branded content solutions then it's something we will look at,” he added. The pay TV operator will now focus on joining up its TiVo offering with the rest of its portfolio including its TV Anywhere service and mobile proposition.

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