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

Google launches a campaign about news connections

The search engine is using archival footage to convey what Canadians are interested in.

Google Canada and agency Church + State have produced a new spot informed by research from the search giant that suggests it is a primary connector for Canadians to the news that matters to them – a direct shot across the bow of the legislators presently considering Bill C-18.

In a spot titled “Connecting you to all that’s news,” the search giant harnesses archival footage reflective of many of the issues Canadians care about deeply, including the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, truth and reconciliation and the war in Ukraine, to demonstrate the point that many Canadians turn to Google as a gateway to the information and news they’re seeking.

“From St. John’s to Victoria and everywhere in between, when Canadians want to understand or get updated on the most pressing topics, Google connects them to the news sources that provide it,” says Laura Pearce, head of marketing for Google Canada. “All of us at Google are proud to be that consistent and reliable connection for Canadians to the news they’re searching for.”

In some ways, the goal of the campaign was to tap into the varied emotional responses that single news stories can have with different audiences across the country.

“News may be factual, but how people respond to it can be very emotional,” explains Ron Tite, founder and CCO at Church + State. “Importantly, those emotions aren’t universal. One news story can create completely different reactions from different people in different places. Because of that, we simply wanted to let connecting to news be the focus of this campaign. We worked diligently to license a wide variety of actual news footage that we felt would resonate with Canadians.”

The campaign can be seen as a statement by the search provider on Bill C-18 – the Online News Act – that is currently being deliberated by a parliamentary committee. That legislation seeks to force online platforms such as Meta’s Facebook and Alphabet’s Google to pay news publishers for their content, echoing a similar law passed in Australia in 2021. The Act has drawn sharp rebukes from both companies, with Facebook threatening to ban news sharing on its platform.

Google Canada is not commenting on whether this new campaign is a response to C-18, but it has been public in its criticism of the legislation. In testimony delivered to parliament and shared on its blog, Colin McKay, the company’s head of public policy and government relations, said, “This is a history-making opportunity for Canada to craft world-class legislation that is clear and principled on who it benefits.” However, he noted that C-18 is “not that legislation.”

The campaign launched on Oct. 24 and is running through December across cinema, OLV, OOH, podcast, digital and social. Airfoil handled the broadcast production.