BTV blurs line between editorial, advertorial

A Vancouver-based production company is offering what it touts as a unique means for businesses to use TV to attract interest from the investment community. But some observers are troubled by the way the product seems to blur the lines between...

A Vancouver-based production company is offering what it touts as a unique means for businesses to use TV to attract interest from the investment community. But some observers are troubled by the way the product seems to blur the lines between editorial and advertorial.

In January of 1998, Milky Way Entertainment launched BTV – Business Television. A weekly half-hour magazine show, BTV is now in its fourth season on Global’s Prime network, and on ONtv in Ontario.

Each episode of BTV includes profiles of two different companies, generally running six to seven minutes apiece. In return for exposure on the show, each company agrees to purchase a repackaged version of the profile – either on video or as a multimedia CD-ROM with Internet interactivity – for use as promotional material.

BTV is not paid programming, insists Milky Way Entertainment owner Taylor Thoen, who serves as executive producer and host. The companies that take part do not shell out for any of the production or airtime, although they do pay approximately $10,000 for the repackaged profile.

"A lot of people perceive it as an infomercial, but once you watch the show you realize that’s not how it is," Thoen says. "Our goal is to endeavour to profile companies, not to pump them up, or to slander them."

There’s no disclaimer on the broadcast to indicate that the content is anything but pure editorial, but Thoen says viewers are encouraged to seek further information on the profiled companies via their Web sites (the URLs for which are shown on-screen).

Billed as "insider profiles on the companies that count," BTV spotlights mainly small to mid-sized publicly traded Canadian firms. These companies are generally eager to get their message out to potential investors, Thoen says, but oftentimes aren’t sexy or controversial enough to get themselves covered by the mainstream media.

Many businesses are looking for precisely this kind of vehicle, says Dean Butler, director of media services with Vancouver-based Glennie Stamnes Strategy. He likens BTV’s profiles to the kind of sponsored supplements that publications like BC Business have been running for years.

Not everyone, however, is without reservations about the concept. Mark Sherman, president of Media Experts in Toronto, says it’s tough to see the distinction between paying for the profile package and paying for the production. And either way, if the story is paid for, one can hardly expect it to be entirely unbiased.

For his part, Genesis Media CEO Bruce Claassen says the BTV concept appears to be a reasonable marketing tool. But he also suggests that the program should feature disclaimers, to ensure that viewers are clear on the true nature of the content. "You don’t want them confused that it’s an investigative piece," he says.

BTV’s primary audience, Thoen says, consists of investors, business owners, managers and entrepreneurs – mostly males between the ages of 25 and 55.

Since 1998, the show has profiled a wide range of companies, including BPI Financial, Co-operators Group, Corby Distilleries and National Health Care.

In addition to its deals with Prime and ONtv, BTV is allied with Yahoo! and, both of which provide on-demand distribution of the series and the individual company profiles via the Internet.

Thoen says that BTV has recently broadened its scope to include profiles of companies from the U.S. as well as Canada, and is currently negotiating distribution in the American market. (She expects a deal to be finalized by early summer.)

BTV is also priming itself for a move into the U.K., Hong Kong and Japanese markets over the next 12 to 18 months.

While BTV is unique in Canada, Thoen says, it will face competitors in foreign markets – but most of these deliver a product that is explicitly advertorial.

"Our style is different – we go on location, interview key principals where they work and show what they do," she says. "We want to take this model into other markets. We’ve honed our skills here, so we know what works and what doesn’t."

Also in this report:

- Shorter formats a double-edged sword: By opting for spots of 15 seconds or less, advertisers can stretch their advertising dollar — but they may also be contributing to the problem of clutter p.TV1

- CCM arouses interest with sperm spot p.TV4

- Painting the smaller canvas: How creatives make their mark in 15 seconds or less p.TV4

- Red Rose resurrects brand with funeral spot: Retires ‘Only in Canada…’ tagline in favour of ‘A cup’ll do you good’ p.TV6

- Ford Focus puts the squeeze on credits: Sponsored previews of top-rated shows in bid to give campaign added impact p.TV8

- Jetta campaign a brand-new love story: Automaker bids farewell to popular Phil and Loulou characters p.TV10

- Is TV worth the money? p.TV13

From Karen Howe’s dining table: Creativity, COVID and Cannes

ICYMI, The Township's founder gathers the best of the best campaigns and trends so far.

Cannes Base Camp

By Karen Howe

I’m attending Cannes from the glory of my dining room table. There’s not a palm tree in sight, yet inspiration and intel are present in abundance.

Cannes Lions is a global cultural pulse check. The social course correction in the wake of the murder of George Floyd and BLM has delivered far greater diversity in the judging panels as well as the work. And we are all better for it.

I’m proud to say that creativity defeated COVID, which speaks to its power. Great work and big ideas flourished, despite unimaginable odds.

The work from the past two years spans a vast emotional range. From the profundity of Dove’s “Courage is Beautiful” to the hyper exuberance of Burberry’s “Festive,” they are opposite ends of the spectrum, but each answered a need in us.

Take note, the ascendency of gaming cannot be understated. Smart brands have embraced the channel. It makes sense, because gamers participate to meet others around the world, not just to play. And they represent a huge and powerful community. That’s why QSR Wendy’s gamified their iconic gal in RPG’s Feast of Legends.

Burger King sponsored the unknown Stevenage Football Club, transforming the team into online heroes and vaulting BK into the fray at the same time. Once again, the brand embedded itself in culture.

The birth of gaming tourism arrived when Xbox snuggled up to travel guides and created a brilliant baby: a travel guide for gaming worlds. It, too, embedded itself in culture.

From the standpoint of social good, Reporter Without Borders showed how it worked with Mindcraft for its “Uncensored Library” to bypass press censorship, with Minecraft providing a loophole to a space where young people could be educated. It provided youth with a powerful tool to fight oppression: truth.

COVID changed us in unexpected ways. We learned how to pay attention again and there was a notable lack of 30-second commercials. Instead, longer format content thrived. Apple’s WFH was seven minutes long. Entertainment reigned king, so we find ourselves returning to our advertising roots.

Seeing competitive brands form partnerships was one of this year’s other great surprises. The brilliantly simple “Beer Cap Project” by Aguila to reduce binge-drinking saw the brand reach out to competitive beers to join in. Aguila put incentivizing (keyword: free) reminders to drink water, eat food and get home safely on its bottle caps from all sorts of fast food chains, ride-share co’s and H2O brands.

On a personal level, I’m so proud of Canada again this year. Given that it was two years of work from all over the world being judged, even making the Cannes shortlist was an accomplishment. Canada is herding in the Lions in tremendous numbers – and it’s not even over. Fingers are crossed.

KAREN-HOWE-PIC-higher-rez-300x263Karen Howe is a Canadian Cannes Advisory Board Member and founder of The Township Group