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Sky maps out vision to emulate the ‘creativity and ‘craft’ of Channel 4’s advertising output


By Seb Joseph, News editor

April 5, 2016 | 7 min read

Now that it has the scale to match Channel 4’s advertising business, Sky Media wants to emulate the way the way the terrestrial broadcaster works with brands to change its own reputation in the market.

For all the breadth and depth of content it has, the satellite broadcaster’s advertising arm has a reputation for being traditional in its approach to partnerships and complex to navigate. That’s changing following a restructure last October that saw three pillars emerge behind deputy managing director Jamie West’s technology remit, the director of sales Duncan Wynn and director of partnerships Rachel Bristow.

Now the goal for all three is to make Sky Media the partner of choice for advertisers and agencies. And it is arguable that Bristow’s team has endured the most radical change to make that happen, with creative solutions, activation, content and data partnerships now her responsibility. Having all those services under the same banner now means the team is no longer just talking about a price-driven media buy and instead sells partnerships on the more holistic idea of a business challenge.

“We’re focused on how does it [a partnership] go beyond just a media buy,” said Bristow. “It’s looking at how do we drive that to be the norm and to demonstrate that we have the creativity and the craft as good as Channel 4.”

Part of that creativity will flow from the way it works with partners like Facebook, with which it has had a formal deal with for two years. From VR to live streaming, the unlikely union of media owner and technology platform has worked together on a range of properties including its Sky News coverage and Game of Thrones. A key reason behind the tie-up is that peak viewing on Facebook apparently matches those instances on Sky, where people are coming together to talk about a specific event or programme.

“We’re entering into more of a mature stage of digital in the sense that advertisers are asking more questions like ‘where are our messages really being seen’, ‘how much frequency capping is there’ and ‘what am I really buying’. What an advertiser now expects from digital is moving out of its infancy an into adolescence in many respects,” said Bristow.

Becoming the partner of choice for advertisers and agencies

Some 70 per cent of Sky Media’s sponsorships go beyond broadcasting but actually where it really wants to concentrate its efforts is on retail, creating a programme of activations. From in-store promotions to using the Sky logo for competitions, the business wants to be the partner that brands believe can win them shelf space in supermarkets.

Its ‘Dream Goal’ tie-up with Budweiser, for example, saw it give the beer the full Sky Sports treatment with its presenting team Jamie Redknapp, Jamie Carragher and Ed Chamberlain appearing in TV ads, which still play a vital role in securing shelf space in supermarkets. Another area ripe for growth is the automotive space; Sky Media is talking to manufacturers about not only how it can drive a test drive through relevancy but also whether it can work with the actual dealerships as well.

To create these types of activations consistently, Sky Media wants its teams to be proactive, pitching ideas to its clients instead of reacting to briefs as they come in. “We want to get to a point where 20 per cent of our time is proactive pitching,” added Bristow, who revealed the realisation it needed to be on the front foot stemmed from its deal last May to handle Channel 5’s £250m TV ad sales business. “When you bring in another big organisation you realise your level of proactiveness versus theirs and so we want to be the ones going in and inspiring agencies or advertisers direct.”

Trading TV using the customer journey

All that is underpinned by a data offering that promises advertisers more robust analytics and sharper targeting fuelled by the Adsmart and Advance platforms. On the analytics front, updates are coming this summer that will give planners a clearer view of what they’ve paid for as well as allowing them to see what sales their buy has driven should they have access to the necessary data.

For Adsmart, it’s business as usual as usual in the sense that it’s still being sold to big advertisers as a way to personalise national campaigns, and to smaller players as way to move into an otherwise expensive channel through the addressable TV pitch. Since it launched in 2014 it has gone from allowing marketers to target ads using post codes and 90 unique attributes to around 900 now, while 700 advertisers have used the tool in that time, sparking a 70 per cent return rate.

It’s the Advance platform that Sky that will be looking to build out in 2016 following its launch at the turn of the year. The product, which applies the Adsmart pitch to campaigns across mobile and digital channels, has already generated “good feedback” revealed Bristow, who cited “increasing brands’ response rates" and lifting “click through rates by over 400 per cent” as proof of its potential.

Despite digital’s growing influence on how Sky injects value into its TV inventory, the prospect of introducing programmatic to linear ads is still unclear. While it has been investing in its own data management platform to fuel a more automated offering, Bristow declined to give “specific date” on whether Sky would bring dynamic ad insertions to its TV inventory because “there’s no actual solution to that at the moment”.

This is where its $10m investment into DataXu, an ad tech software company, could pave the way; it has already done tests with brands such as Ford and Lexus in the US around live and linear programmatic TV insertions, which Bristow said Sky would look at the learnings.

“There’s a degree of programmatic in every business at the moment but will an advertiser want to trade all their TV in this way? I doubt it because context remains the success of planning….and the transparency of the TV market is very different to what it’s like online,” she added. “TV is brilliant about being transparent and the fact that advertisers online pay for audiences that they’re supposed to have paid for rather than it just being used to fill a space.”

There’s a strong focus on pushing the inherent strategical value of a well-choreographed media buy that’s emanating from Sky’s revamped structure. And while it has said in recent times that it sees no long-term value in driving impressions, it’s operating in an industry where many marketers are likely to question why should pay more if they've got the cheapest cost per thousand.

It’s a trait Bristow noticed last year as Sky Media was drafted in by its agency partners to help out on pitches. “It [media pitches] still seem to about value it should be about how does everyone move on so that it’s about growing market share for example,” she continued.

When Sky struck the deal with Channel 5’s owner Viacom last year it swelled its inventory to account for more than a quarter (27 per cent) of the TV ad sales market, which is roughly the same as Channel 4, though still behind ITV’s 46 per cent share.

“I want clients to think of Sky as the broadcaster that really amplify their sponsorships,” said Bristow. “We’re looking to almost create marketing programmes."

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