Content as part of RTÉ’s Digital Game Plan

Left to right: Conor Mullen, Commercial Director, Cara Doyle, Branded Content Manager. Ken Nugent, Sales and Business Development Manager, SallyAnn King, Branded Content Manager

L-R: Conor Mullen – Commercial Director, Cara Doyle – RTÉ Create, Ken Nugent – Sales and Business Development Manager, SallyAnn King – RTÉ  Create

Cover Story as featured in IMJ.


It’s been a tricky few years for the Irish media industry. Despite the upturn in the economy and buoyant consumer sentiment, most media companies are fighting a rear-guard action trying to protect their own slice of the estimated €1bn advertising pie while at the same time facing into their own unique challenges as the media consumption habits of their readers, viewers and listeners continue to change. For those operating in the broadcast space, like RTÉ, those challenges are many. With a public service remit, however, it is obligated to provide its viewers and listeners with news and content on the devices they use, whether it’s a linear TV set on the wall or, increasingly, on an array of digital devices from laptops to phones and tablets. Operating in an ever-evolving digital space, however, is far from plain sailing.


Despite the surge in digital advertising in recent years, the reality is that the lion’s share of it is going to two companies – Facebook and Google. All the other players in the Irish media ecosystem, from news brands to broadcast companies like TV and radio stations, are left to fight for the digital crumbs that are left over. But digital remains a firm focus for most broadcasters not just because that’s where the money is flowing into but because that’s what consumers want and it’s how they are consuming content. This is no different for RTÉ. Some 46% of the adult population in Ireland use an RTÉ digital service at least once a week. The RTÉ Player, meanwhile, has clocked up two million app downloads while currently around 4.4m streams are viewed per month. Elsewhere, its RTÉ News Now app has notched up 1.6m downloads while it has over 400,000 unique users and over 70m page views in May alone. Its website, www.RTÉ.ie, meanwhile has over 900,000 users in any given week while it had around 5.5m unique users, also in May. As Irish digital media businesses go they really don’t get bigger than this.


From a commercial perspective, everyone within the digital media ecosystem has been forced to up their game by becoming a lot more innovative and creative when it comes to offering solutions to advertisers, including RTÉ, according to Conor Mullen, commercial director RTÉ Media Sales – Digital. Possibly the biggest digital development for the broadcaster has been the setting up of RTÉ Create, an audio-visual native content offering that taps in to its strong broadcasting credentials. While native content has become a big play for all media companies, few can match the reach and scale which RTÉ has at its disposal. “RTÉ Create, as a proposition, has been there in the background for a while and we’ve now put a brand behind it,” says Mullen. “We could see where online display was going in terms of commoditisation, particularly in terms of programmatic delivery. We have always sought to differentiate ourselves in terms of our offering and we have watched the growth of native advertising over the last few years and for us it was about playing to our strengths in terms of the quality of the content and the creativity but also our background in audio visual,” he adds.


Creating Content

“What we are doing with RTÉ Create is something different. We’re not going to be writing PR messages and dressing them up as a native article. But we will use native articles in support of branded content that we create along the lines with what we have done with Bord Fáilte and Ireland’s Ancient East. We’ve also done it with Carr’s and Chef Adrian Eats Ireland. We are creating original audio-visual content and supporting it through messaging through RTÉ platforms and social channels.


“These are good examples of unique broadcast quality branded content for an online audience which we were able to bolster with our own native articles and ultimately drive people to view the six-part series on the RTÉ Player,” he says. The Carr’s example was a media first, he says. Developed in association with MEC Wavemaker, the content-centric division of media agency MEC, Chef Adrian Eats was launched exclusively on the RTÉ Player and has since become a huge success. “For brands looking to do something different, it’s a lot more immersive, long-term and it’s about developing a partnership. It’s not an alternative to a campaign that might drive awareness of a brand but it complements it,” he says. “This content is evergreen.” “It’s online programming and it’s not just something that you just throw up together and hope that it sticks. It has all the same high production values that we have across all our content and I suppose you could call it TV content for an online audience.


There are currently two people focused directly on the branded content offering, Cara Doyle who has a background in TV production and Sally Ann King who has a background in media buying, including stints with Starcom and Mindshare. “But it’s a team effort across sales, operations, design and data. We also have internal and external partners with specific skills and expertise in this area,” adds Mullen. “It’s a serious business for us and we want to make sure it is done right. We’re not going to be banging stuff out every day of the week. I’d say if we probably do between five and 10 a year that would probably be ambitious, because it’s a process that takes time to ensure we deliver it to the highest standards possible and have the content stand on its own.” While branded content developed by RTÉ Create will play a big role going forward, the bread and butter for most digital publishers will continue to be advertising inventory and formats which has also been subject to change in recent months.


Bye Bye Splash Pages

RTÉ has been to the fore in exploring and developing a number of media and advertising firsts in terms of formats, many of which have proven popular. However, in the digital world, change is the only constant and some formats which were innovative at the time, have since been retired largely because they were either deemed to be too intrusive and possibly annoying to users. “Things like interstitial’s, splash pages and mobile banners are being phased out,” says Mullen.


“If you take the mobile banner for example, I think it was a knee-jerk reaction in the market and the rush into mobile by advertisers as audiences took flight to the mobile internet, with the advent of the iPhone. Everyone wanted to be on mobile and the mobile banner seemed like the right thing to do. But with responsive websites, things have moved on and we can now design good responsive creative for clients that will fit the appropriate screen size the audience is looking at. But in all of this, you have to think of the user experience and what does and doesn’t annoy or interrupt them.


There’s a reason why ad blocking is so prevalent – people were getting frustrated with the poor quality of many of the online ads there were being served up to them, amongst other things. So, the industry needs to change this and the drive to quality must continue. “Everything that we do, has to have the audience first and be audience-led,” he says. This has also meant that RTÉ has had to reduce its advertising inventory, but the business case for doing this is far more compelling than having a website clogged with annoying and intrusive advertising says Mullen. “Last year we reduced it by around 10% but we still had the required inventory to deliver on customers’ campaigns.


We have made a conscious decision to reduce the ad load, this aids in page speed and user experience,” says Mullen. “Interscrollers, page scrollers, full page interstitials, splash pages and popups are gone. These are formats that any online audience hates and they lead to high levels of ad blocking as a consequence, the Pagefair 2017 ad blocking report estimates desktop ad blocking at 39% in Ireland, by eliminating these formats, adblocking on RTÉ.ie is in very low single digits, which in this industry says a lot,” he adds.


“In addition, we do not use the content recommendation engines some other websites use. Depending on the site, the quality of the content is often poor and it takes the user away from the site, which in many ways defeats the purpose. Of course, publishers are making money out of it but there’s also brand safety issues to consider for advertisers. The sites you can be taken to can often have inappropriate content and there are risks of data leakage that are worth considering. It’s not something that we are looking at.


Another key digital development for RTÉ over the last while has been to seed some of its own content throughout different social networks, particularly Facebook and Twitter. Anyone with a Facebook account will probably have seen video clips from the broadcaster’s various shows popping up in their timeline with remarkable frequency. It may be an interview taken from The Late Late Show or a clip from the comedy show Bridget and Eamon.


The reality is that consumers can’t get enough video content and Facebook, in particular, is upping the game on the video front by favouring publishers that provide quality video. And RTÉ has a veritable reservoir of video content at its disposal. “We’ve taken an approach with our audio-visual content to put some if it out there, particularly the content that we think people will like. Facebook’s algorithms now favour and promote audio-visual content over everything else and if you have audiovisual content, it will come to the top of the feed as opposed to news stories or anything else.


“For RTÉ it’s about the ‘drive-to-live.’ Our programme makers are saying that there’s an audience on Facebook that may not be aware of our content or aware of a particular show. So, it’s about promoting those shows, many of which are live such as The Late Late Show. If we can interest them and get their attention, they can then watch it on TV or the RTÉ Player if they missed it live.” Like many media companies, the lure of Facebook as a platform for dissemination of content can be attractive because of its sheer size and reach. But they should also tread carefully.


“When it comes to platforms like Facebook, there are things that we have either put on the backburner or just said no. Facebook’s Instant Articles, for example, is one of those things. It was widely debated internally but at the time we were building out our own responsive website so we questioned why we should be investing in Instant Articles when we should be trying to get people to our own sites. But also, I don’t think any publisher has found a successful monetisation model for Instant Articles and a number of the larger publishers have now pulled back from it,” says Mullen.


Selling Trust

Like other media platforms, RTÉ is not immune when it comes to a growing disenchantment among consumers when it comes to important considerations like trust. While trust in a media brand is the bedrock on which they will either perish or thrive, it also has commercial implications for the media owner and the advertisers that support it. This was clearly evident from the recent hullabaloo surrounding ads for well-known brands being served up alongside jihadist videos on YouTube.


The ensuing debacle led to some brands and media agencies either pulling their ads altogether or suspending them temporarily until the problem was sorted. But trust is, and will continue to be, a big issue facing all media companies over the coming years and there’s no hiding from it.


From a commercial perspective, advertisers also need to feel that their brands are ending up in a reputable and trustworthy environment. “Last year RTÉ commissioned a significant piece of research, The Power of Integration, which we delivered to the market in February, showed the entire RTÉ estate across our TV, radio and online services – the research included trust in advertising and RTÉ Player and RTÉ.ie were the most trusted online advertising entities in Ireland, way above any of our digital competitors and that includes Facebook and Google,” says Mullen.


The Industry’s Problems

“The reality is we sell on trust and that extends right across the board in terms of the content, what is being advertised, the delivery of it, that it’s going to be delivered in a trustworthy environment and, just as important, that it’s actually going to be delivered to the right audience because a lot of advertisers don’t know where their ads are appearing. And this is what happened with YouTube. “YouTube, in many instances, couldn’t tell you where your ads were appearing.


The same is true with Facebook and they can’t tell you where your ads are appearing because they don’t sell their ads on the basis of content and context, it’s based on targeting an audience. Programmatic advertising has the same risk. You should never take the context out of advertising,” he says. “This is where the human element comes into play. Chase Bank were using programmatic advertising to reach 400,000 different websites. They reduced it by over 98%, by having a team of people painstakingly whitelist each site. The results were remained the same,” he adds. According to Mullen, the industry now has a duty to sort out these problems out because with programmatic advertising attracting more and more investment from advertisers these problems look set to continue unless properly managed.


A recent article highlighted the transparency issues for programmatic buying that could easily catch out even the most seasoned professionals. “Everybody from brands, agencies right through to the third-party ad networks and publishers, has a responsibility in this regard. Advertisers have the right to know where their ads are appearing, just as much as where they should not be appearing. It’s as simple as that. So, it’s a problem that really needs to be addressed before it gets totally out of hand as all parties can get tarnished by bad players,” concludes Mullen.



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