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Raymond Snoddy 

CFlight alliance shows our regulated TV market can innovate

CFlight alliance shows our regulated TV market can innovate

Raymond Snoddy salutes the UK broadcasters for evolving US product CFlight as a compelling tool for TV advertisers.

Sometimes, huge international initiatives that look so promising for the media turn out to be so much less than they seem- while more modest, innovative developments deliver  much more because they are real.

It took less than a week for “Rishi’s global tax that will really hit the tech giants” to unravel.

The deal that came out of a G7 meeting looked so good. To fight back against tax avoidance companies would have to pay tax in the countries where they do business.

At the same time, the G7 finance chiefs agreed to a global base of  “a minimum” 15% for corporation tax.

Great if it happens, but don’t bet against tech companies such as Apple and Google finding loopholes or fighting rear guard actions through the courts.

Then there are smaller countries, which for competitive reasons, might be very happy to give the tech giants new corporate homes to try to avoid the new G7 taxes.

Apart from that, Prime Minster Boris Johnson is, according to the Financial Times, already seeking an exemption for the City of London.

For good measure, the think-tank Tax Watch, warned that the tech giants could end-up paying less than half as much in Britain as they do under the existing digital services levy.

It’s early days. Watch for further unravelling to come.

Whatever the final outcome, what is absolutely certain is that there will be no early resetting of the competitive disadvantage between the near trillion dollar companies and UK media operators, such as national newspapers and commercial broadcasters.

By way of contrast, there will be no headlines for the arrival of the curiously named CFlight, outside the specialist media marketing sector.

But it is real, significant, and another telling example of how previous rivals can co-operate to strengthen their hand in the never-ending battle with the California streaming giants.

CFlight is the UK commercial broadcasting industry’s first  unified metric “that captures live, on-demand and time-shifted commercial impressions across all mainstream viewing platforms in the UK.”   

Quite a mouthful, but when it launches in the autumn it will enable advertisers to see exactly what the overall advertising exposure of a campaign has been using combined data for linear TV and broadcaster VOD (BVOD).

Lest there be any doubt of the importance of this development, the BVOD market in the UK is forecast to be worth around  £600m this year.

It is noticeable that this new tool is in tried and trusted hands – research consultancy RSMB, media software specialists TechEdge who can call on the data and expertise of both BARB and ABC.

The innovation is also notable for the fact that in a regulated television system, Sky, ITV, about to re-enter the FTSE 100 following a doubling of its share price, and Channel 4 can all come together to collaborate.

At launch, the broadcasters covered by CFlight will also include UKTV, STV, Channel 5, Discovery and Viacom.

Such collaboration was not always possible. Just mentioning the name Project Kangaroo, even more than a decade later, can still bring some broadcasters out in a cold sweet as an example of the worst that clodhopping competition regulars can do.

The plan that would have brought BBC Worldwide, ITV and Channel 4 together to launch a joint on-demand service was blocked on the grounds it might harm future competition.

There was future competition alright– but it came not from the UK but from the likes of Netflix.

Now of course, the communication regulator Ofcom is urging public service broadcasters on to co-operate and collaborate to compete better with the multi-national American media companies.

It has to be mentioned in all fairness that CFlight was not invented here, but in the US.

It was initially developed by Comcast-owned NBC Universal in 2018 as a global advertising tool, covering both broadcast and streaming services.

When Comcast bought Sky last year it was only a matter of time before CFlight migrated to the UK.

The wise thing was to make it more widely available, in this case through Thinkbox, another long-established vehicle of collaboration by the UK’s commercial broadcasters.

So far the record of US broadcasting ownership in the UK has been good and not just over Sky and CFlight.

There were fears that when ViacomCBS bought Channel 5 it  would simply become a vehicle for American shows. Instead, the company has greatly expanded local TV production, and profited as a result.

We must however, be careful which bits of American innovation we choose and must avoid like the plague any element of the de-regulation that has had such devastating consequences for the US, not just for American broadcasting but for American democracy and society.

It is worth quoting, as a terrible reminder, what Ronald Reagan did when he ditched the American Fairness Doctrine, 40 years ago.

It said: “Licensees must not use their stations for the private interest, whims or caprices of licensees, but in manner which will serve the community generally as a whole. Broadcasters must provide adequate coverage of public issues and ensure that coverage, fairly represents opposing views.”

Reagan’s decision has led directly to polarised media, Trump, conspiracy theories and, with the help of the social media, the storming of the US Capitol.

As a result the most trusted broadcaster for news in the US is not Fox CNN, MSNBC, Bloomberg or even PBS, the public broadcasting service, but the BBC.

More than half of Americans believe journalists lie, and that the organisations they work for, are more concerned with pushing an ideology than informing the public.

A large majority of Republican voters believe the Trump lie, that his second presidential term was stolen by Joe Biden.

And so it was that in a lecture earlier this year in honour of the late Sir Harold Evans, BBC journalist Clive Myrie, who has covered every presidential election since 1996, had this to say in favour of Ofcom and existing regulation.

“Impartiality rules and strong regulation are the bulwark against the disaster of the American media jungle being replicated here, with its attendant detrimental effects on democracy."

So a warm welcome to CFlight and an absolute rejection of American-style deregulation of broadcasting – with or without Paul Dacre as chairman of Ofcom.

Fairness and impartiality, however difficult to define, are as important as they ever were, perhaps more so as many Americans are belatedly starting to realise.

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