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Channel 4’s digital innovation chief Jon Lewis talks 'joining the creative & commercial dots' with branded content extensions and interest-based ad targeting


By Jessica Davies, News Editor

August 12, 2014 | 5 min read

Channel 4 is on the hunt for a dozen brand partners to work with on its first wave of interest-based ad targeting trials for 4oD.

The broadcaster expects to phase out genre-based ad selling in the next few years, predicting that more than half of all 4oD ads will likely be sold via demographic and interest-based targeting by 2016.

Speaking to The Drum, Channel 4’s head of digital partnerships and innovation Jonathan Lewis, said it is now looking to bring on “a dozen or so” advertisers to pilot interest-based ad targeting methods and has already begun talks with agencies.

“Last year we got seven advertisers on board to test demographic targeting and now we are doing the same with interest. We want to bring on a dozen or so advertisers and ask them what segments are useful for them to target and we will then prove the efficiency and effectiveness of those segments,” he said.

The move will see the broadcaster move further away from genre-based targeting on 4oD, which Lewis described as a “blunt tool” in comparison to the new and future capabilities.

He said the pilots will represent a “sizeable” investment from brands, with last year’s partners for its demographic tests spending between £70,000 and £100,000 over a two-month period, for campaigns that comprised circa one million ad impressions, from which Channel 4 could then create an appropriate benchmark.

Of its 11.5 million-strong database of registered 4oD users, it will draw from the 8,000 regular respondents panel within it to run the tests, and determine segments based on their preferences in relation to hobbies, passions and lifestyle choices.

Meanwhile the broadcaster is also pushing ahead with its branded content plans, having launched its first short-form video content strand Shorts, designed specifically to cater for mobile devices and meet growing demand for snackable content.

This has involved uniting the Channel 4 commercial, creative and commissioning teams together in an entirely new way, with all parts working together to create branded content shows for Shorts.

Last year Lewis began to build the team that would lead these news forms of brand partnerships, appointing people like former Drum OMG’s head of IP and entertainment formats Simon Wells to the role of partnerships controller for funded content and creative solutions.

“We’re joining up the creative and commercial dots and broadcasters just haven’t done that before, and that’s where it has real opportunity and potential. That’s one of the things Simon is starting to deliver with his team – he is working hand in glove with commissioning, to create great entertainment as opposed to just great content – and that’s a big difference,” said Lewis.

It has already launched nine commissions for Shorts content including Educating Binky, featuring Made In Chelsea stars Binky Felstead and Mark-Francis Vandelli sponsored by Rimmel, Jamie Oliver's Food Tube, and Home Truths (pictured above) sponsored by British Gas. It has also struck a major deal with Alfa Romero to sponsor a show called Speed featuring Guy Martin.

Previously commercial and commissioning teams have worked more separately, but now Lewis’ team are more often part of the conversation with marketers and independent TV production companies from the start.

“Our whole strategy is pinned around ‘fewer, bigger, better’, which is the overarching approach that we’re trying to take across digital and partnerships and we are very much putting content central to how we innovate and how we do things differently with clients and agencies.”

His end goal is to expand branded content partnerships beyond content production or funding alone to potentially encompass major events, helping brands deliver full comms plans.

Lewis recruited former Channel 5 head of commercial partnerships Emma Derrick as commercial development leader, tasked with creating this new form of “holistic” partnership.

“Emma was the final piece in the jigsaw, coming in to support this fewer, bigger, better strategy and help us create big holistic partnerships that are really rounded. Rather than just making a programme with a brand, doing a sponsorship with them or a bit of product placement, it’s bringing all those things together and adding a bit on top – whether you can bring in additional rights or the ability to create events off the back of formats.

“…We want to be laying things out up front with indies [independent production companies] as it helps engage marketing directors and CMOs at a much higher level – they can see it’s not just about sponsoring a programme but gives them a real end-to-end comms plan across all media, events, from creating an ad, to funding a show, to creating and delivering big, high-profile events – it starts to become a much bigger proposition.

“That for me is the real end goal. If we can have half a dozen really big partnerships which span all these areas, that’s a much better approach than running around doing 500 things. And it’s almost like a revolving door – as one comes in, another goes out. There is a lot more churn in the existing model where brands pop in and out – well, why not try and have big, deep relationships over a long period of time that really add value,” he added.

Channel 4 kicked off its marketing campaign to promote Shorts earlier this month.

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