National day on the meat market
Even Australia Day is up for sale, it would appear. Photo: Jane Dyson
IF YOU accept MasterChef Australia as merely a prime-time vehicle for promoting a certain supermarket chain and a brand of paper towels, you may appreciate that Channel Ten's Australia Day special is an hour-long paid advertisement for lamb.
Ten is about to take what advertisers call ''branded content'' to a whole new level next Saturday with The Australia Day Showdown ''brought to you by Meat & Livestock Australia''.
Even Australia Day is up for sale, it would appear.
Charlie Pickering will present Channel Ten's Australia Day Showdown, an hour of prime-time programming funded by MLA.
The Project's Charlie Pickering is fronting the program, which is the prime-time centrepiece of Meat & Livestock Australia's (MLA) $2 million Australia Day 2013 campaign starring ''lambassador'' Sam Kekovich. Last year's campaign was a huge success for MLA, when Kekovich's Barbie Girl spoof went viral, generating about $8 million in free coverage.
The Australia Day Showdown is produced by Roving Enterprises, which also makes The Project, and will feature two teams of comedians including Kitty Flanagan, Meshel Laurie, Akmal, Denise Scott and Lawrence Mooney debating the topic ''You Can Never Be Too Australian''.
Ten has trumpeted the show as a big win: a lucrative deal between its cross-platform sales division Connect and MLA's campaign for Australia Day. Its aim? To target a youthful audience.
Meat & Livestock Australia's 'lambassador' Sam Kekovich.
Branded content is not new to Australian television but most of the shows funded by pet food companies and tourism bodies, among others, are hidden away on the weekend and out of prime time.
Channel Seven raised the stakes last year with McDonald's Gets Grilled, a self-funded documentary that was provided to Seven free by the hamburger chain.
The author of the recent book Advertising, the Media and Globalisation, Professor John Sinclair, says branded content, or advertiser-funded content, is growing in popularity as advertisers search for new ways to get through to the consumer in the age of new technology.
According to Sinclair, this ''active erosion of the line between entertainment and advertising spots'' has been prevalent for about 10 years.
''What seems remarkable about this particular show is the length, as most branded content we already see on TV is of the 'infomercial' type, or other usually short-form material,'' he says.
TV networks are required by law to make clear what is a program and what is a paid advertisement. According to the Australian Communications and Media Authority, this type of advertorial is covered by the commercial TV code of practice, which dictates the commercial relationship must be disclosed either in the program or in the credits ''and should adequately bring the existence of any such commercial arrangement to the attention of viewers in a way that is readily understandable to a reasonable person''.
But Sinclair says the regulations were written to specifically limit the number of minutes an hour for commercials and had not kept up with this type of more surreptitious commercialism.
Ten has told Green Guide it will ''adhere to our licence conditions re: disclosure'', but has not indicated how viewers will be informed the debate is an hour-long ad punctuated by commercial breaks.
Sinclair says the cost pressures on networks, and the drift of advertising revenue to online, have led to the increase in branded content.
''Even shows like Big Brother and home-improvement, cooking and other 'reality' genres carry a heavy load of commercialisation built into the content,'' he says.
''Audiences, certainly younger ones, seem to accept this progressive commercialisation of their media fare, so long as it is not too blatant, and so long as it is 'cool' and entertaining.''
The Australia Day Showdown, Australia Day, Channel Ten at 8.30pm.