Noel Curran’s Home Truths

The recent Competition Authority ruling (discussed previously by our CEO Ciaran Cunningham) which has resulted in RTÉ’s decision to abandon its practice of share dealing (or offering discounts based on the share advertisers give them of overall TV budgets), is almost certainly going to create more focus in 2012 on how public service broadcasting should be funded. RTÉ’s Director General Noel Curran had some interesting views on the very subject in his lecture to DCU’s School of Communications on 17th October last.

The speech made more headlines for his stated intention to shave 30 per cent off the salaries of RTE’s top talent. But there was much more than that. In a wide-ranging talk that painted a very vivid picture of the competitive media landscape, Curran made some solid arguments in favour of Public Broadcasting or “Public Media”, as he said it should now be termed.

“Nothing in Ireland bridges the worlds of information and culture, or operates with greater trust and popularity, than does Public Broadcasting”. While accepting that other broadcasters also provide a public service content in part too, they engage in it, he said, “because it suits their legitimate profit motive, either in terms of advertising return or as part of a case to access public funding.”  That’s fine, but it perhaps came across as belittling the efforts of independent broadcasters, at both national and local level, who provide this ‘public service’ output for the very reason that some audiences are not getting it from RTÉ and have shown that they can generate commercial revenue from it without compromising its integrity, quality or acceptability.

Curran forcefully translated the doublespeak of competitors who make the case that licence fee money should only be spent on “programmes that the market will not provide” were essentially saying that RTÉ should just “do whatever doesn’t make money for us.” To be fair, he has a point here because that has been largely the unspoken sentiment of various privately-owned media since the launch of the independent sector over the last twenty years ago, even though the ground rules were known to them when taking up commercial licences.

Given the parlous state that the Irish nation and our collective psyche is in at the moment, it is hard not to find some sympathy for the RTÉ DG’s belief that there is “a need for a publicly-owned media service with a strong Irish voice”. RTÉ can be accused of ignoring the effect of its commercial behaviour on the broader media landscape but a weakened RTÉ is almost certainly not in the interests of Irish businesses, brands, audiences and if the truth be told, their indigenous competitors too.

Read the full text of Noel Curran’s lecture here.

As always, if you have any opinions- supporting or conflicting- on this post or related matters we’d love to hear from you, so please feel free to post replies below.


The Inside Scoop

It often seems quite difficult to avoid hearing quotes from commentators in the media about the impending demise of the newspaper industry.  It is a subject that all newspapers are grappling with at the current time with circulations dropping and ad revenue being squeezed on all sides, especially by digital. This documentary on the iconic New York Times provides a great insight into the issues being faced.

Page One – Inside the New York Times”, directed by Andrew Rossi, examines how the New York Times is managing to stay relevant and commercially viable in the new modern age when it is being attacked on all sides by a plethora of online rivals providing news and analysis in different formats, nearly all of which are free. 

Shot over a period of 14 months, the director gains access to the newsroom of America’s “paper of record” at a time when the paper is facing the biggest threats to its very survival since it was founded in 1896.  The core storyline in the film follows the reporters at the newspapers’ Media Desk, established in 2008, which covers the media industry but also the evolution of new media and its impacts on traditional media institutions such as the New York Times itself.  

With a multitude of different stories and issues that evolve during the film, from how social media has impacted on journalism, to the severe downturn that has hit the U.S. newspaper industry and to how the New York Times went about putting its online content behind a pay wall, the film is often quite chaotic (but most newspaper working environments generally are).  However the film presents a great fly on the wall experience and an extremely honest view of the workings of one of the world’s great newspapers and how it is battling to survive in the face of mounting challenges both in terms of how news content is being consumed and the impact this will have on the future of the newspaper.

This really is mandatory viewing.

Garret Monahan – Head of Press

*Film released in September 2011 and is now available to buy or rent on DVD from most video stores.

Image courtesy of

As always, if you have any opinions- supporting or conflicting- on this post or related matters we’d love to hear from you, so please feel free to post replies below

Fuelling Consumers’ Passions

David Peters, the Head of Carat Sponsorship UK, was in Dublin last week and talking to him about the work they are doing in the UK really drove home how we all now approach sponsorship from a completely different direction.

Sponsorship is no longer about finding a programme or vehicle that our audience enjoys and then just trying to associate the brand with it.

It is about identifying our consumer’s passions and then building a relationship between our brand, the consumer and these passions.

Our recent Kellogg’s sponsorship of Xposé is a great example of how we identified and developed a sponsorship out of an insight and passion. The Special K consumer has a very clear passion for beauty and fashion. We also know that they indulge this passion on a daily basis through many frequent but short touchpoints with the genre.

Xposé provided us with the perfect vehicle to deliver all the values and merits that we want to be associated with Special K. In addition Xposé forms part of the daily ritual for its fans as they interact with it across the day and week. As we built the sponsorship we ensured that there was a link between Special K and Xposé across all of its many touchpoints – TV broadcast, 3player, online streaming, magazine supplements, Facebook page, twitter feed, YouTube page, live events and many more. It is this “always on” nature of the show that made it the perfect fit to associate with.

But this is still not enough to truly build a relationship in the consumers’ eyes. Gone are the days when the words “this show has been brought to you by” actually make people believe the show would not be there for them to watch if it wasn’t for the goodness of the advertiser. Ironic given we are now in a broadcast production era when many shows actually would not be there but for the advertisers commitment of funding.

To ensure the consumers accept the relationship between, fashion, beauty, Xposé and Special K we have also built a series of events for Special K consumers around fashion using Xposé presenters and including coverage across Xposé’s many touchpoints. We have taken the sponsorship outside of the programme itself with week long cross station promotions across TV3 and press partnerships.

We often find we identify a consumer passion for which there is no easy broadcast sponsorship solution.

Our activity for Lucozade last summer shows the kind of incredible inventive solution we can come up with to ensure we fuel our consumers’ passions.

We identified a very clear passion about live music from our core audience and the natural place for us to build on this passion was the music festival season. Rather than just sponsoring a festival or a stage (the equivalent of stings on a TV programme) we saw an opportunity to help them enjoy their festival experience rather than define their festival experience for them.

We created our own media properties ranging from a Lucozade bus that took people to the festivals for free (thereby removing the only boring part of the whole event), radio and press segments encouraging festival goers to share their experiences, right through to a TV3e series to find people to broadcast live from the festivals for transmission on air. All the elements showed the consumers how Lucozade was not just trying to say “hey we like music too” but was actually doing something to help them enjoy the festivals even more.

It is how we activated the communication around the consumer’s passions that have made these sponsorships work. We have taken the activity far beyond buying stings, to full integration and a clear demonstration for the consumer of how we are building on their passion for them.

Many media and property owners themselves have now realised that sponsorship is almost entirely about activation rather than just awareness. The most blatant example of this we have seen recently is from the 2012 Olympics. All the official sponsors get for their money (and it’s a lot of money) is the right to use the rings and say they are partners. No broadcast rights, no logos on kit, not even a logo on the backdrop of a stage. How the sponsors use the rings is entirely up to them and will still have immense value for the target consumers – but it is something that they and their agencies will need to develop and deliver themselves.

There is no shirking this. No one can say “well we’ve spent all that money on the rings we aren’t going to waste anymore on it now”. As we have seen already, they will have to activate it and build the relationship themselves or it’s worthless.

Which is the right way to do it.

Chris Nolan – Director

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As always, if you have any opinions- supporting or conflicting- on this post or related matters we’d love to hear from you, so please feel free to post replies below

The Impact Of Technology On Our Brains

A friend of mine sent me a video of a 1 year old baby trying to “interact” with a magazine (published on in October). The baby shown in the video had been previously exposed to an iPad and had been trained by its user interface to repeatedly try and use a glossy magazine in the same way. The article accompanying the video goes on to talk about how technology will affect the next generation of human beings.

As my job is to explore and understand consumers and recognize behaviours and attitudes that can have a bearing on how we communicate with them, the impact of technology on our very resourceful and adaptable brains is of great interest to me. Ironically, it is this very technology that is allowing us to get a greater understanding of exactly how our brains work, but while there is a growing body of research that shows us that technology is affecting our brains, we still have a lot more to learn.

The challenge is in understanding if technology is going to step change the behaviour of a whole new generation of people or will our brains and consequent behaviours just keep adjusting to new technology, as has been the case throughout the ages.

I remember reading an article in the Atlantic magazine by Nicholas Carr titled “Is Google making us stupid?”a few years ago, where Carr told the story of Friedrich Nietzsche losing his eye sight as a demonstration of how technology can change the way we think, not just the way we do things. With Nietzsche’s eye sight beginning to fail, he purchased a Malling-Hanson Writing Ball (an early typewriter) which allowed him to write with his eyes closed. One of Nietzsche’s friends, a composer, noticed a change in the style of his writing. His already terse prose had become even tighter, more telegraphic.

“You are right,” Nietzsche replied, “Our writing equipment takes part in the forming of our thoughts”. Under the sway of the machine, writes the German media scholar Friedrich A. Kittler, Nietzsche’s prose “changed from arguments to aphorisms, from thoughts to puns, from rhetoric to telegram style.”

If the humble typewriter could have such a great affect, one can only imagine the impact of the Internet. The exciting thing is that more and more scientists are researching this impact and, as far as I can tell, the conversation is moving past the negative based assumptions that were leading the conversation for some time. Increasingly, research is showing that not just young brains are being impacted, but everyone who has access to the Internet too.

Neuroscientist, Gary Small monitored the brains of 24 adults as they performed a simulated Web search, and again as they read a page of text. During the Web search, those who reported using the Internet regularly in their everyday lives showed twice as much signaling in brain regions responsible for decision-making and complex reasoning, compared with those who had limited Internet exposure. The findings, to be published in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, suggest that Internet use enhances the brain’s capacity to be stimulated, and that Internet reading activates more brain regions than printed words. The research adds to previous studies that have shown that the tech-savvy among us possess greater working memory (meaning they can store and retrieve more bits of information in the short term), are more adept at perceptual learning (that is, adjusting their perception of the world in response to changing information), and have better motor skills.

Another study of online research habits, conducted by scholars from University College London, suggests that we may well be in the midst of a sea change in the way we read and think. As part of the five-year research program, the scholars examined computer logs documenting the behavior of visitors to two popular research sites, one operated by the British Library and one by a U.K. educational consortium, that provide access to journal articles, e-books, and other sources of written information. They found that people using the sites exhibited “a form of skimming activity,” hopping from one source to another and rarely returning to any source they’d already visited. They typically read no more than one or two pages of an article or book before they would “bounce” out to another site. Sometimes they’d save a long article, but there’s no evidence that they ever went back and actually read it. The authors of the study report:

Thanks to the ubiquity of text on the Internet, not to mention the popularity of text-messaging on mobile phones, we may well be reading more today than we did in the 1970s or 1980s, when television was our medium of choice. But it’s a different kind of reading, and behind it lays a different kind of thinking—perhaps even a new sense of the self. “We are not only what we read,” says Maryanne Wolf, a developmental psychologist at Tufts University and the author of Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain. “We are how we read.” When we read online, she says, we tend to become “mere decoders of information.”

Don Tapscott, author of “Grown Up Digital: How the net generation is changing your world”, feels that this type of reading far from dulls young brains- it can activate them and help them achieve spectacular results.

Whatever your view on the negative or positive impact that technology is having on our brains, as marketers, understanding how people engage and interact online and how their behaviour both changes and remains the same is critically important. We are well beyond the bad old days of treating the Internet as a basic media channel and now embrace it as a fully embedded element of our lives and world. Knowing the way that experience is “computed” is all important for success. We are watching these new learnings all the time and hope to be posting again soon about this fascinating topic.

Dael Wood – Director Insights and Strategy

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As always, if you have any opinions- supporting or conflicting- on this post or related matters we’d love to hear from you, so please feel free to post replies below

Sun Sets On RTÉ Trading Policy

Following the recent Competition Authority ruling, it is very welcome news that RTÉ has agreed to abolish its practice of pricing television airtime based on the share it receives of an advertiser’s television budget. Their trading policy was based on the rule that the higher the share of television budget an advertiser gave to RTÉ, the less expensive the airtime. The policy made it difficult to plan budgets at an optimum level because the price of airtime on RTE rose significantly if an advertiser tried to give increased share to other television channels.

RTÉ have committed to change their trading system in July 2012, however, they planned to continue their current trading practice for the January to June period next year.  Our view is that by only releasing policy and prices for the January to June 2012 six month period this will make planning television next year very difficult and will create increased uncertainty. We are expecting RTÉ to relook at this and create a more stable planning environment for 2012.

The review from the Competition Authority (to be available here from mid December this year) also brings into sharp focus the debate on how RTÉ is funded and what this may look like in the future. With the appointment of Willie O’Reilly as Commercial Director, RTÉ have signalled their intention to look at a major restructure of their commercial division which will see a more centralised commercial approach across all their media platforms. A very interesting year awaits all TV stakeholders in 2012.

Ciaran Cunningham – CEO

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As always, if you have any opinions- supporting or conflicting- on this post or related matters we’d love to hear from you, so please feel free to post replies below.

Local Press Backed By The Stats

Local Newspaper Week recently ran at the end of October.  This inaugural initiative was spearheaded by the Regional Newspapers and Printers Association of Ireland (RNPAI) and was promoted to agencies and clients by Mediaforce Ireland.  The aim of the week long initiative was to “celebrate local newspapers and the important role they play right across Ireland.”

The launch of the initiative took place at the Alexander Hotel on Wednesday, 26th October and featured a presentation of the IPSOS/MRBI research and an address by Minister for Communications, Pat Rabbitte TD.

Over 30 RNPAI newspapers participated in the week-long event which included a 16-page tabloid supplement inserted into all participating titles which promoted local press, as well as details of a microsite.

So, what to make of this week long promotion of local press?

We live in a time when the media landscape presents us with more choice than ever before in terms of the breadth of vehicles we can use to target consumers.  It is also a time when newspapers (both national and regional) have received much criticism, with the doom merchants proclaiming the imminent demise of the medium on a regular basis.  With this in mind, it was very refreshing to see regional press raising its head above the parapet and making a concerted effort to re-establish its credentials amongst advertisers, agencies and the wider public. 

The tabloid supplement was a nice mixture of localised content for each title (featuring advertiser & reader testimonials and historical pieces on each paper) with additional information given on the background of the project and on the research results.  The research itself yet again affirmed the bedrock footing that local newspapers have in Ireland. 

Some key points:

  • 76% of households buy a local newspaper at least once a month
  • 63% of respondents trust their local paid for newspaper the most to deliver local news about their area
  • Three quarters of all respondents have an opinion that their local newspaper offers value for money
  • Levels of engagement remain high with half of all respondents reading the entire newspaper each week & the average length of reading per week is approximately 69 minutes
  • Respondents are strong advocates of local press both in terms of news (86%) and information on products & services (81%)

Source: RNPAI/Ipsos MRBI 2011

In addition to re-affirming the important role that local newspapers play among communities, it was encouraging to see RNPAI members actively going to local schools to promote and educate what will hopefully be their next generation of readers. This is a key area for the newspaper industry as a whole to address, in order to develop and maintain their readership in future years.

Efforts such as this are to be commended, given the battle the industry seems to be facing to prove itself.  Despite the continual evolution of digital, local newspapers still play a huge part in the lives of people across Ireland and cannot be overlooked by advertisers when seeking engagement at a local level.

Garret Monahan – Head of Press

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As always, if you have any opinions- supporting or conflicting- on this post or related matters we’d love to hear from you, so please feel free to post replies below.