The television industry is in trouble. For decades, broadcast television networks have made their money by buying content (shows) that people want to watch, and placing advertising within it so that the audience couldn’t help watching the ads – let’s face it, you don’t get up for a beer or bathroom break at EVERY commercial.
The remote control was the first technology to put some power into the hands of consumers. When ads come on, people just zap over to some other channel, watch a few minutes of something else, and zap back when the ads are over. Or don’t zap back, because they got more interested in the other show.
Did the TV industry complain about the remote control when it came out? It undoubtedly detracted from ad viewing. Nowadays they scream about Tivo. This, for those not familiar, is an easy-to-use TV recorder. You can program it to record your favorite shows if you won’t be home to see them and, when you do get around to seeing them, it’s easy to skip forward every time you come to an ad. One friend of mine, even when he was home to watch the show at its scheduled time, would record it. He’d sit down to watch (from the beginning) about ten minutes into the show’s broadcast time, so that he could skip the ads even as the show was still being broadcast. You can do stuff like that with Tivo. It’s cool.
(NB: Tivo doesn’t exist in Italy and I wouldn’t bother if it did – nothing worth recording around here, and I don’t have time or inclination to watch that much TV anyway.)
As ads are reaching fewer and fewer TV viewers, advertisers have become less willing to pay premium prices for advertising slots, and more desperate to find other ways of reaching consumers with their “message.”
One solution is product placement: paying producers to showcase certain products in shows and movies, often very obtrusively. One product placement shot that leaped out at me was in “Jurassic Park,” when about 1/3 of the cinema screen was briefly occupied by a Macintosh computer. Although out of focus in the foreground, at that size the beige case and rainbow apple logo were unmistakable. In “Spiderman 2”, a fight takes place atop a truck barrelling down the streets of Manhattan. In spite of this scene taking place at night, the truck is so well-lit that the product name (beer) is practically spotlighted.
Producers will tell you that product placement is part of the financial package that helps pay for your entertainment. Product placement in television shows is currently illegal in Europe, but the European TV industry is trying to get this law struck down, on the grounds that it does nothing to protect the consumer (Europeans see a lot of American shows with placed products anyway), and unfairly hampers European producers in finding funding for native European shows.
I wonder, though: at what point is a show just one big ad? James Bond movies started to look like that somet time ago. Do some other movies, such as costume dramas and fantasies, NOT get made because they lack product placement opportunities? Perhaps extra funding is needed for these kinds of shows because they are unfairly hampered by the need for historical accuracy – Elizabeth and Darcy can’t be shown swigging down Pepsis.