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The business end of Channel 4's Upfronts

07 Jun 2019  |  David Pidgeon 
The business end of Channel 4's Upfronts

Back once again at Camden's Roundhouse, Channel 4 hosted its annual upfronts this week - the usual mix of alcohol, entertainment and in-house celebs to woo advertisers and their agencies.

The Roundhouse is certainly an atmospheric venue and Channel 4 puts on a good show that always showcases its distinct personality as a broadcaster.

For 2019 things were slightly different, however, with 100 of the industry's top brass invited to a "specially curated experience" before the fun bit, which included keynotes from Siobhan Kennedy, business editor, Channel 4 News, Claire Enders of Enders Analysis, and Vicki Maguire, chief creative officer, Grey London.

Between them, they looked at the UK's economic outlook ("buckets of chaos" and "absolute uncertainty"); disruption in the media markets (which included a YouTube and Netflix spanking); and the state of creativity in advertising (pot shots were made at online advertising for delivering "creepy" or "boring" targeted ads, influencer fakery and for not deploying the classic 'big creative idea' for ultimate cut through).

Separately, the keynotes were interesting and perhaps wisely two of them were delivered by some engaging third-party names to give them more credibility, but the pitch about investing with Channel 4 - or in TV more broadly - was more subtle than many expected. A sign, perhaps, the team is confident with its growing adtech tools (see below) and its commitment to decent content to maintain audiences.

There were a few confused looks exchanged, however, when Enders made some rather unusual comments about the "unbelievably violent" and "sexy" content of Netflix as she took to the stage to diss the competition (YouTube was, as ever, in the crosshairs too), while praising the "wonderful" family viewing of Channel 4 and other public service broadcasters.

We'll assume she's never watched Naked Attraction or Utopia.

Meanwhile, the bleak impact of Brexit uncertainty was artfully explained, but was not really accompanied by any real strategy for advertising investment in such strange times.

A theme we're picking up, however, is the growing importance of SMEs to the UK's economy - and, looking at this Credos report, to adland too.

Given smaller businesses are fuelling so much of the ad revenue growth of Facebook and Google, perhaps TV needs to do more to welcome them too. Sky is trying it with AdSmart. With the rise and sophistication of VOD platforms like All 4 then other broadcasters should perhaps also make this a focus - SMEs might have less cash to spend, but at scale this might not be an issue.

The other big announcements from the day included the hire of BT's Zaid Al-Qassab as C4's new CMO (quite a coup); the latest diversity award, which will tackle LGBT+ representation in ads; and a move to boost VOD investment with a tool to target custom audiences - a sure sign Channel 4 is placing adtech at the heart of its offering.

So that's what they're called

As a side note, Mediatel happened across a small gathering of researchers at the event and upon saying hello, enquired what the collective noun for their ilk was. A quick-witted reply came from Channel 4's own research boss:

"A sample", he said.

Later, the question was thrown back - what is the collective noun for journalists? Although Mediatel guessed 'a confusion', the official answer is...

...A scoop. Or a slant, depending on how you feel about them.

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