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A-ha! How Alan Partridge is shaping the nature of new content

At 11.00am today (that’s UK time), lager brand Fosters will debut the first in a series of 12 weekly Mid Morning Matters shows hosted by Steve Coogan’s inimitable creation, Alan Partridge.

It’s a smart move by Fosters to enrich its brand association with comedy which now spans its sponsorship of the Edinburgh Comedy Awards (formerly the Perrier Award — it’ll be a challenge to prise the mineral water’s brand name off that particular property), its sponsorship of Channel 4’s comedy programming and the Film4 comedy season which aired earlier this year.

What’s also interesting is that Fosters has itself commissioned the content — scripted by Armando Iannucci — that will be hosted on YouTube and broadcast at its www.fostersfunny.co.uk site.

And it won’t be the first comedy revival they intend to be involved in because, earlier this year, Heineken UK suggested that The Fast Show may also be on their hit list.

Of course brands are past-masters of original short-form video, audio and filmed content thanks to their long history of commissioned advertising, so independent production companies and artistic talent make for very successful brand bedfellows.

But brand-commissioned series are a relatively recent phenomenon. However, the accessibility of new media platforms — like YouTube — offers both brands and content producers a means of bypassing traditional broadcast commissioning processes (after all, commissioning editors tend to be looking for the next big thing and not the last one) and appealing directly to latent audience demand in new ways.

But attracting an online audience is tricky without either existing popularity, or niche or viral notoriety and celebrity. That’s why reviving old favourites, like Partridge, makes sense to artists, producers and brands; Partridge is definitely in the popularity camp and that reduces Fosters’ risk of perceived failure to draw viewers of its content.

(Of course Fosters may also be benefitting from the lessons of Budweiser’s BudTV which flatlined because it pursued the creation of a comedy channel and eventually couldn’t justify the cost of sustaining it.)

Instead, Fosters is curating brand-commissioned content and content associated with its sponsorship activities to pragmatically build a rich platform for comedy that’s associated with its brand.

And my point? Well, I’m certain that original brand-commissioned content is only likely to increase given the accessibility of technology. However. the model is more likely to be collaborative in nature. In fact, the parallel would be game development where, for instance, brands buy perimeter advertising in grand prix-style games to provide game developers with the funding they need to develop and distribute new titles.

It means there will be a stronger co-creational principle underpinning development of original content with a very clear audience in mind. That may prove to be a double-edged sword for content producers who may feel the compulsion to compromise in order to realise their project. However, the traditional broadcast commission model has always done that hasn’t it?

And on that bombshell…