Friday, 25 September 2009

Product Placement

A few months ago I wrote in my column in the Eastern Daily Press newspaper about the digital Britain report from the then culture secretary Andy Burnham. He has since been replaced and a lot of his initiatives are slowly being undone by his successor Ben Bradshaw. For example six months ago Burnham said that lifting a ban on product placement in TV programmes raised "very serious concerns ... blurring the boundaries between advertising and editorial" – following a three-month consultation.

Six months is of course a lifetime in modern politics. So I was not that surprised when Bradshaw has now come out and said that he accepts lifting the ban and unveiled a new consultation process. The reason given for this is that “the climate has changed”. Now I know its now autumn but it has not changed that much.

The reality is that this is no surprise. I have written about product placement many times, my favourite being Bond films which are the kings of product placement. If you have the DVD there is a good drinking game around how many times an obvious placement is seen, from an Omega Watch to the classic Aston Martin.

Product placement is now also the norm on America television. Tune into American Idol and you will see Cowell and his American counterparts all drinking Coca Cola with the cup prominent on the jury’s desk. The thing is, because we get so many American shows here in the UK it is happening in the UK already. Most American shows use product placement to earn a bit of extra cash and so when they are shown here, as they largely are, we see it.

There has also long been a market in UK television in giving product for free to be used as props. This has always been a way of getting around the ban on placement and for brand owners, as you did not have to pay to have your label in shot just give free samples, it has been cheaper.

So now they are looking at finally catching up with the rest of the world, will we see Carlsberg in the taps of the Rovers Return? Probably. However it’s not the great money spinner you might think. An early estimate puts the value of product placement to the commercial television market at around £100m a year. This is nothing compared to a total TV ad revenue of nearly £3bn a year.

The problem is that the placement will no doubt still have to be subtle which means it not in your face and so cannot command a premium price. However ITV in the first half of 2009 made a pre-tax loss of £105m and all commercial broadcasters would welcome any new source of revenue.

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