Product Placement: Advertising in TV shows

Most all of us who have watched television cannot miss the flood of commercials that, we have often been told, help support the artists creating the entertainment as well as the corporate distribution network that brings the shows to us. It seems to me that the time granted to commercials on television versus the time granted to the show itself is a growing ratio—commercials are much more preponderant than they were 20- or even 5-years ago—and at the same time costs for viewers to purchase programming have increased far in excess of the rate of inflation for some number of years now.

If one has subscribed to a premium movie channel, the viewer will see fewer commercials, but this is not the only way to decrease commercial content. Technologies such as VCRs and Tivo have apparently turned the advertisers’ television model on its head, as viewers using these devices can skip through the commercial onslaught.

TV advertisers claim they aren’t getting the market saturation they feel they have paid for and claim they are entitled to, so they are increasingly demanding that screenwriters include more product placements within the body of the show itself. The Writer’s Guild of America claims the increasing frequency of this is unfair, perhaps even deceptive, and is fighting back. From an article authored by David Cohn (his weblog), and published by Wired News:

“While the WGA hasn’t filed a FCC petition, they have drawn up a list of demands. These demands include a full disclosure of all advertisers, strict limits on products placed in children’s programming and a collective voice for writers on how products can be incorporated into story lines.”

While I’m absolutely certain that the majority of writers are underpaid (I know well more than one novelist that claims this), and I fully support the rights of groups of people to gather together in peaceful dissent and to petition for higher wages, I have to ask, where is the concern for the average entertainment viewer?

Has the purchaser of cable TV or satellite programming simply been relegated to consumer status?

If one watches over-the-air broadcasts, or even subscribes to basic cable or satellite programming, but doesn’t routinely record shows using a VCR or Tivo for the purpose of commercial free television viewing, then increasing the amount of product placements written into the body of entertainment itself further increase the commercial onslaught that this subset of viewers watch.

If one is paying for a premium movie channel, for advertisement-free viewing, and advertisements are increasingly included in the script as product placements, then are premium-channel purchasers getting the same level of service they received in the past? If one buys DVDs to watch instead of subscribing to a premium movie channel, and advertisements are written into the movie script, then has the retail cost of DVDs gone down as a result of this advertiser subsidy?

If the Television Networks don’t watch out, they’ll find the insatiable greed of their advertisers causes even more people to turn off the TV, more than those who already have. If average television viewers are going to be watching only commercial content, both in the obvious commercial slots as well as the increasing amounts of advertisements within the body of the show itself, advertisements that are not obvious and have an intent other than telling the screenwriter’s story, then shouldn’t those viewers be paid to watch TV?

2 thoughts on “Product Placement: Advertising in TV shows

  1. I had an interesting time writing the Wired News piece you reference. One thing that seemed to seep through was that the WGA was positioning itself to bring Reality TV show writers into the Writers Guild of America Union. Interesting proposition: Reality writers.

  2. We should require disclosures on product placement when every person who actually BUYS the products placed in this manner are required to disclose what influenced them to buy the product, before they are allowed to have it.

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