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Commercial Production: Middle age spread

By The Drum, Administrator

August 21, 2008 | 5 min read

As digital communications have come of age more clients are using websites and virals to market their products and services. That means that money traditionally spent on TV is ultimately being spread across a number of platforms. The Drum asks how this is

While TV advertising is still the choice of medium for maximum exposure, habits are quickly changing. The spread of spend is... well... spreading. And the major benefactor in this migration of money is, more often than not, the internet.

While commercial production companies that once focused solely on the big (and sometimes not so big) budgets of television and cinema production have been producing virals and online adverts for a number of years now, the medium is continuing to grow in sophistication and importance.

Couple this with more and more major clients and their agencies looking to sample the more budget-friendly services of production companies out with the confines of Soho, and the opportunities for regional production houses look promising indeed.

“As a growing business, we’re dealing with bigger budgets than we ever have before,” says Steve Byrne of The Gate Films.


“Yet, in many ways, it’s been quite a stagnant year,” he continues. “The same conversations continue about ad funded programming and branded content without anyone producing effective, high profile campaigns.

“Disappointingly, it is TV companies, not commercial production firms, that have been quicker to take the lead. However, our partnership with The University of St Andrews and RSAMD and the launch of the Gate Lab is set to change that.”

The partnership will see The Gate Films team up with the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama to produce a range of online drama and entertainment and then study the spread and impact of the programming.

Speaking of the move, Simon Lewis, MD of The Gate Films, adds: “Branded content is nothing new, but what appealed to me about this partnership was the opportunity to actually go out and produce what a lot of people in the industry have been hypothesising for a couple of years now.”

However, it is the re-distribution of budgets that many commercial production companies point to as the immediate threat to the industry, with some producers believing that there could be casualties in coming years – if the industry doesn’t work smarter and better together.

Colin Offland of Chief Productions says: “Clients are spending the same amounts but they are spending in many different areas. Generally budgets are getting a lot tighter and a lot harder to work. Rather than spending 100k on the production of one TV advert they are now spending 100k on a TV ad, a couple of variations, some web content, and a viral.

“The immediate threat to the industry is that productions standards start to drop in order to achieve everything the client is asking for and perhaps the odd company will drop out the market as they seek to achieve the same production values and don’t achieve their margins. Interestingly we are seeing a lot more scripts from London agencies who are are struggling to make their budgets work with london production companies and are starting to look up north for some answers.”

This is something that MTP’s Simon Mallinson agrees with: “Obviously there is a lot of web work, but this seems to be in addition to TV commercials not instead. Film is an exciting medium. It doesn’t matter where our product is shown – we are not a media company, we are a production company communicating in a disciplined manner.

“Production budgets are tight but they always have been,” he continues. “The reason they are tight is because expectation is always high. People want the best for their scripts which means the best cameramen, the best lighting packages, the best cameras, the best editors and the best post-production.

“Marketing departments and cost controllers are becoming more sophisticated and they are asking us to be accountable for all the money we spend. This tends to work in our favour because both MTP and Onward have a strong production ethos and have never had the indulgence of wasting money. You have to be able to offer sensible production as well as exciting creativity.”

But despite money – that once was reserved for television – now being distributed to a wider channel of media, many still see TV as the chief channel for big brands to communicate.

“Television still remains the strongest platform for any advertiser, whether locally or nationally,” says Lucid’s Daniel Healy. “What is making TV effectiveness stronger is the on-line presence of the brand. Bigger brands have widened their campaigns and TV is now being used to point consumers towards online.”

No set rules

“There are no set rules anymore,” adds The Mob Film’s John Brocklehurst. “But TV advertising works. And there are more smaller clients now advertising than ever before due to cheaper air time. We have seen more creative scripts from agencies, and it seems like clients are getting more adventurous, especially agencies outside the M25.

“But at the same time, crew rates keep going up and budgets down, which doesn’t make sense. Most British crews realise this and are prepared to do the appropriate deals. The ones that are not are dinasours and will find themselves with less and less work.”

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