Special Report: Battle of the UK ethnic agencies

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With competition rising and broadcasters turning to desperate measures to cash in on the ever shrinking advertising pie, there’s a battle of a different kind taking place amongst UK ethnic media agencies.

Its a known fact that Sky Media sells commercial airtime for BARB rated Asian TV channels but when it comes to ethnic/local sales, its either broadcasters themselves handling them or the responsibility is handed out to media sales agencies. With the likes of Star TV, ZEE Network and Colors/Rishtey responsible for ethnic clients, its more the Urdu services that are are being notched up by couple of the bigger ethnic media agencies.

Recently, it was announced that Evolution Media Network had won the account of popular entertainment channel, Urdu1, when it also takes care of A Plus Europe sales and Turkish/Pakistani channel – SEE TV. The agency also has one Urdu news channel under its umbrella – UK 44. Its rival agency, Alliance Advertising & Marketing is responsible for Hum TV Europe, which incidentally belonged to Evolution Media Network before its contract ended. Alliance Advertising & Marketing also handles the sales of two rival news channels – New Vision TV (ARY World) and Dunya News. With contracts with each broadcaster being kept underwraps, it would be interesting to see what the Minimum Guarantee has been agreed between the two parties. With ZEE Network and Sony Pictures Networks soon joining the Sky Original Pack, competition for monies would only intensify.

To find out the industry’s perspective on the play of ethnic media houses, BizAsiaLive.com spoke to a number of leading UK media executives. The main question was to understand the positioning of these agencies and whether there was a conflict representing services with a similar output.

Rajan Singh, a former head of Star TV UK/Europe operations and Lyca Media was rather vocal with his thoughts. He has worked with a number of agencies over the years and thus he didn’t hold back with his opinion, “There are no ethics anymore in this business and its not only the Pakistani agencies! It’s about survival and dog eat dog. The channels are doing this as they do not have the budgets to create their own offices and teams. Cheap option get a agency, grind them down on their commission and see if you can make a few great British pounds. A lot of the agencies are jack of all trades and master of none. This strategy in the long run does not work.”

Javed Husain, who has been behind one of the UK’s longest running ethnic agencies, Media Reach said their commitment was to make the industry ethical and professional. He said, “Most mainstream advertisers understand and have probed their agency’s commercial governance for years, except in the Ethnic market where many advertisers have seemingly been asleep at the wheel. In my view, our industry has no written rules and we are self regulatory and some key issues do arising and one is the Agency relationship with Media owners and Media Sales houses:

1. Advertising Agency need to remember that with power comes responsibility. They need to re-align themselves towards their client’s objectives and away from the lure of easy profits. Their role must involve policing the media suppliers, not conspiring with them. The simple truth is that if Agency cannot reestablish trust, then advertisers should dis-intermediate them.

2. The inappropriate trading practices within the ethnic media landscape. Media suppliers are operating on exotic programmes to incentivise agencies to spend with them. It is well understood that the media sales markets are being competitive and over-supplied, but media suppliers have a responsibility too. Rebate deals with spend ratchets have no place in the industry, it compromises the Agency spoken code of looking after the clients objectives.

3. The need to curb unhealthy advertiser practices. For every action there is a reaction; advertisers need to understand and acknowledge that their partners and suppliers need to make profits and investments, and that agreeing reasonable, even motivating, levels for their business is not a weakness. Advertisers must face up to the fact that income lost in low fees and commissions will be compensated elsewhere in the supply chain.

4. The distrust fermented by irresponsible intermediaries purporting to be objective advisors. The relationship between advertisers and their media agencies needs time and effort to heal but this will not happen unless clients adhere to professional codes of conduct and act more responsibly. Actively churning agencies through pitches and sharing confidential information across clients/Agencies are behaviours which cannot go unchecked. Agencies must have confidence in client/Advertiser and the staff/advisors they appoint. At Media Reach we think the industry needs to start putting things right now.”

Prasad Manjrekar has been the sole representative of India’s leading Hindi news channel, Aaj Tak since its launch in the UK and believes there are no issues with an agency representing more than one competing channel. He said, “I do not believe it is unethical for an agency to have 2 channels from the same genre, as long as the channel (networks) have no issues with it. We have fewer strong agencies in the market now, that are capable of managing ad sales for channels and that the channels (networks from India/Pakistan) can trust and rely on. As long as there is no bias from the agencies, towards both the channels they are representing, it is in the benefit of the channels to stay with the stronger players in the market. As far as the question of being desperate is concerned, I’m sure, it is a simple business decision from the media owners (in terms of revenue commitments), to shortlist the agencies, they have chosen to work with.”

A prominent media professional, who runs one of India’s leading channels spoke to BizAsiaLive.com on the condition of anonymity, he said, “Globally sales houses sell competitive channels within the bouquets so as a sales house there is nothing wrong with that, however the glaring difference here is that the same sales houses are also agencies so may get biased in plugging higher monies of their clients onto these channels. Also since ethnic sales happen more on relationships allocation of monies between the channels will be an issue and could mean on channels losing out.”

Another media executive from a Pakistani broadcaster told BizAsiaLive.com , “There are media agencies who have rivalry not just on the business front but also on a personally due to their politics in Pakistan. They’re promising these Pakistani services silly MGs, which is detrimental not just to those businesses but also to other serious players in the UK market. It’s become like a kindergarten with agencies launching channels ad-hoc.”

With plans to further ramp up the number of Indian and Pakistani TV channels in the UK this summer, no doubt there will be some causalities on the way. With audience figures dwindling and sales becoming more competitive, some of the smaller channels may need to re-evaluate their strategies for the survival of the fittest. The ‘Zero’ ratings in BARB figures may just be the start of their troubles and the end to their UK presence. Its a game, which will be closely watched by analysts.

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