Content on healthcare networks must meet the needs of medical staff as well as patients, says The Life Channel's Joy Salisbury.
The "content is king" cliché has been bandied around for years now, and continues to be bandied around in articles and from platforms at conferences and seminars as if each new generation had discovered the idea.
But the more time I spend in this strange world of screen media, the more I question this concept. Screen media is a broad church encompassing everything from escalator panels with an inherently mobile audience absorbing the messaging on the move, to screens in stores and at petrol stations, to televisions in doctors' waiting rooms and hospitals; and with screens just 19 inches across as well as 96-sheet-size screens suspended from massive buildings all lumped together into the same category.
So we have to ask ourselves: how can any lesson learnt in one environment truly have saliency for any other environment? Perhaps we should turn the "content is king" adage on its head and apply a bit of old-fashioned advertising discipline. Content is not king unless you qualify what else is needed to ensure that content reigns.
This is the area that is almost always overlooked or ignored. Before you start contemplating content you have to think about who is going to be seeing it and where they are going to be - the audience and the environment. Your audience is king, queen, prince and princess, and the starting point for any attempt to produce relevant engaging content has to be a thorough understanding of that royal family. In true monarchical style, the royal family is protected by ministers who in each environment either ease the route to the audience or block it - and an understanding of the audience requires a thorough understanding of this tier too.
So when you are producing content for a screen network there are always two audiences to consider. The primary audience is the end user who you hope will absorb your medium and therefore understand your brand better, and/or be metamorphosed into cash as a valuable audience that advertisers wish to reach.
This is the primary audience - but there is also a gatekeeper or secondary audience. which can make or break your network. The strange thing is that our primary audience has little or no choice as to whether or not they are given an opportunity to see our content.
hether they actively watch it, deliberately seek to avoid it, or positively object to it being in the environment they occupy is a different matter and one that should be of great interest to all of us, but they have no say at all in whether or not the content is made available to them. They can't switch it over or turn it off - the decision about whether or not that content is playing is out of their hands; that decision is in the hands of the gatekeepers.
Serving the gatekeepers
At CAN Media we own and run The Life Channel (TLC), a 1200-site satellite network running in GPs' waiting rooms all over the UK, as well as several smaller subsidiary networks growing out of the TLC brand including In Pharmacy TV and a variety of TLC hybrids. In total we produce content for and operate more than 2000 screens. TLC has also recently launched a new channel which will result in a further 1500 screen installations each year.
The TLC network boasts some serious clients which include Tesco and numerous OTC and FMCG brands, all of which need content that meets their own exacting production standards. We also produce content for BPTV, a screen network currently being trialled by BP. Our networks are very different but in all cases the gatekeeper or secondary audience - in TLC's case, the staff at each medical practice - is very high up in our list of priorities when we are developing a content strategy.
They need to believe that we understand their requirements; that we are sympathetic to their unique environment; that we have a dialogue with them that is visible on-screen and that we can respond when they express an opinion, whether complimentary or not. TLC is a prime example of a network where the secondary audience is of paramount importance to us as network owners.
Unlike in a major retailer, where the initial decisions to install a screen network are made at head office and away from the specific sites, medical practices opt into the system on a surgery-by-surgery basis. The best sites thereafter are the sites where the practice staff are actively engaged in ensuring the system is used to the benefit of their surgery. We encourage that engagement with regular visits, phone calls and a continuous research programme which invites them to tell us what they do or don't want to see and how they think we can improve our output.
This engagement helps us to ensure that we get our content right. We will only reach our audience if the TVs are on so we do everything possible to ensure that is the case. Technology helps, but people - our gatekeepers - help more.
But of course we don't overlook our primary audience either - more than 3.5m people a month, sitting in waiting rooms which traditionally provide little by way of distraction other than a pile of old magazines and a few dog-eared leaflets. The environment our audience is in informs everything we do.
We are in doctors' surgeries where people may be feeling ill and vulnerable; or by contrast they may be quite well but having to wait for routine health checks and therefore impatient and irritated; they may be young mothers with young children (we know that many of our audience are in this group); they may be older (and again we know that this demographic is well-represented in our audience). The one thing that they have in common is that almost all those people are at that point concerned for either their own health or another's, and so healthcare is the obvious starting point for our content strategy.
Compared to many networks, the dwell time in TLC's sites is quite significant. Our own research and that of the Department of Health indicates that the average waiting time in a GP's surgery is 20 minutes or more, with some people waiting much, much longer, so a second important criterion is to ensure that our content does not repeat within that average waiting time. Certainly 20 minutes is too long to sit and watch a short loop of digital signage without boredom soon striking.
This brings us back to the point about the difficulty in grouping together such a diverse range of audiences and environments into one medium. With retailer networks at one end of the spectrum, where the audience is catching a glimpse of a screen as they pass, and true captive-audience networks like TLC where the audience has a televisual relationship with the screen at the other end of the spectrum, there is little that is homogenous about this medium at all.
In developing content for TLC we have a duty to the primary audience who cannot switch it off or turn it over. We have come into their space without their permission and without giving them an opportunity to get away from us. We owe it to them to make the content as good as we can within the constraints of the budgets available; because of the sensitive nature of the environment we have a duty not to betray them by giving them bad or wrong information; and we have an opportunity to show them programmes about things that can truly benefit them if they choose to take note.
The content is given a cohesive framework of clearly recognisable channel idents and strand idents which feed into the brand identity of the channel. The Life Channel has a brand bible and anybody working on content is expected to know what the brand stands for. It is all about taking individual responsibility for one's own health and by extension the health of one's family, friends, community and the broader society. All of our strands feed back into the underlying brand proposition.
This in turn grows out of the environment in which the channel operates and supports the current healthcare policy of encouraging people to know more about health and to take care of themselves through knowledge and information. Indeed, our core strands are geared towards supporting the Quality and Outcomes Framework which is the mechanism by which GP's surgeries are remunerated by Primary Care Trusts.
This is another way in which we take care of our secondary/gatekeeper audience by supporting their role through our programming. We run a loop of content which lasts for about an hour and a half. It is programmed into editorial segments of about five minutes each; we run a segment of editorial followed by a segment of ads, the length of which varies.
Within any hour we will have at least 30 minutes of good editorial content, the majority of which is produced by our in-house team. At one time, most of our editorial items were about four minutes long. This seemed quite logical given the average dwell time and the structure of our loop. However, by researching both our primary and secondary audiences we were able to gain more insight into what works best.
We now produce items ranging from 45 seconds to around three-and-a-half minutes so that we can schedule several items in each editorial segment, giving the audience greater variety and ensuring that when they are called in to see the doctor they are not going to miss a large part of the item they are watching. We broadcast and produce a number of core strands in key areas of personal health and well-being.
We have a long-term relationship with the Food Standards Agency, with which we produce food and dietary items; we are working closely with the Department of Health on all items directly related to disease and condition management and primary care; we work with a range of sport and exercise experts to give useful and encouraging information about getting more activity into one's daily life. These are the three bedrock strands of the channel.
The Life Channel as a brand exists primarily in surgeries but is gaining significant traction in other community outlets such as pharmacies, children's activity centres and schools. Each brings a different dynamic to the content needs for the channel, and while the fundamental brand position informs the development of the content strategy in each case, an understanding of the specific needs of audience and environment that reflects the needs and requirements of the gatekeepers is the surest way to keep the screens switched on.