Prime unveils brand-funded datacast channel

By By Paul McIntyre | 26 September 2011

EXCLUSIVE: Regional broadcaster Prime Media yesterday launched the first datacasting channel from any metro or regional TV network with a new service which allows advertisers free rein with their own content, as long as it meets the information requirements from regulators.

With Lachlan Murdoch as a shareholder and on the board and relatively new CEO and former Nine and Seven executive, Ian Audsley, brought in, Prime Media has fired back to life with vastly improved revenues, earnings and ratings success. Prime embarked on a disastrous diversification strategy several years ago, including acquiring digital group Destra.  It has shut down its iPrime online brand in favour of a new “white label” service from Yahoo!7, now called Prime7.

Audsley has pared back Prime’s remit to core broadcast and online services, which includes launching the new TV4 channel, which uses Prime’s existing spectrum to create an information channel to regional markets, funded entirely by advertisers.

The ability for any broadcaster to create a datacasting channel has existed for about 10 years but Prime is the first to do it. In the auto segment, for example, Audi was one of the first partners to launch on TV4 (Channel 64) yesterday with content it has created but which meets regulatory requirements for information style programming. Some entertainment segments are allowed but the content must primarily be for information.

Prime has struck a deal with Brand New Media to manage the programming schedule, sell the airtime and create content.

Audsley said he expected TV4 to generate revenues of $5-7 million in the first year.

“I didn’t want a channel that competes with our entertainment channel and I didn’t want it to carry advertising in the form of spots,” Audsley told AdNews.

“TV4 will be back-to-back independent programming that comes from advertisers. We are trying to provide a service for brands to reach audiences in a different way. More and more brands are producing content and it is a good way to monetise datacasting. Trying to do it with spot sales is pretty difficult. We have got about eight partners currently and at the moment it is tracking in line with our expectations. We will monitor it and see how it goes but we are pretty confident it will go well and become a full-time proposition for us.”

Audsley said a second datacasting channel was unlikely.

“Doing another one is probably a tall order,” he said. “Broadcasters have had this opportunity for 10 years and the challenge has been how you monetise it.”

Audsley said Prime had benefitted from a close working relationship with Network Seven including Prime having a full time executive based with integrated sales unit SMG Red to deliver regional initiatives to national advertisers.

“We have gone from a company that was very technically focused and operationally focused to one that has become a more creative company and we have done that to build those incremental opportunities that we weren’t getting before. We are taking share from our rivals because this is about innovation. That’s what will set us apart and give us growth."

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