A contentious aspect of the last season of the TV show Community was the prominent product placement for Subway Sandwiches use throughout. The struggling show built a number of episodes around the food company, and literally gave it prime real estate in the show’s backdrop. On twitter and in blog posts, many ardent fans lamented the ostentatious and (sometimes) too “in your face” endorsement, however, I disagree. In my opinion, when done correctly, product placement can be beneficial for both for the consumers and the advertisers, can save struggling shows like Community, and offers new opportunities for a changing media landscape. What’s more, it could be the future of the television industry.

I can understand the criticism. It is incredibly annoying to get back from a commercial break only to be smacked in the face with another commercial, and, even worse, it can detract from the show itself. However, the way we all consume media has changed drastically. Thanks to DVD’s, recording technology like VCR’s and TiVo (Foxtel IQ in Australia), video streaming services like Netflix, posting of copyrighted content on sites like YouTube, File sharing sites like Megaupload, and online digital shops like ITunes and Amazon (etc. etc.), more and more of us watch our favourite TV programs completely unencumbered by commercial breaks. The traditional cash cow that funded the television industry has been completely undermined, and, without advertisements it no longer makes sense for a “half hour show” to only last twenty-two minutes. Something has to change.

Now, as I said, there is a possibility for both consumers and advertisers to benefit from this. Right now, most of us fast forward through commercials, leave the room during commercials, or are not encountered with them whatsoever. If advertisers find a way to directly inject commercials into the entertainment, not only will they guarantee their commercial lasting more than the brief 30 seconds they currently do, they are guaranteed our rapt and undivided attention. The returns from advertising will be far greater, and, possibly, the amount paid for advertising will increase. This could also fund posting shows online, bringing new shows to the international community faster, the advertisement will have already paid for the cost. What’s more, in return for barging in on our entertainment, we can expect longer shows. Rather than twenty-two minutes of entertainment intersected by eight minutes of ridiculousness, we get a full half an hour. In short this could be a win-win for all involved, provided it is done right.

Furthermore, this will also be a boon for struggling cult shows like Community. Instead of advertisers paying for commercials purely on the basis of ratings, we can expect syndication, online viewing, and other sales to factor in to advertising rates. Instead of paying for 30 seconds, the advertiser will in effect be paying for an infinite number of viewings detached from time and geography. Instead of purely the number of viewers in the home market, advertising rates will be forced to take into account the global marketplace for entertainment. Shows will have to be judged by more than the sheer number of eyeballs they attract, the devotion of fans from all over the globe will have to be priced in. The changing media landscape will be addressed.

Now, lets all not forget that shows have been utilising product placement for a long time, and often quite successfully. The best example would have to be the Colbert Report.  I am not sure whether Colbert actually receives money from the likes of Apple, Budweiser, Doritos (etc.), but he does incorporate their products into his show and it is bloody hilarious and effective. For example, Colbert’s antics with various Apple products are hilarious. He demonstrates a lot of their capabilities and is entertaining all the while. As a result I really wanted an iPhone, and I wanted one before the craze really began. His continual use of Apple products is much more effective and entertaining than any commercial of theirs I have seen except for the famous “Mac vs. Pc” commercials done in the early part of the last decade. If product placement is done well (as with Colbert) and ad breaks were removed, it would beneficial for everyone. My entertainment is not interrupted by commercials, and advertisers are guaranteed more bang for their buck. I am more than willing to sit through it, especially if the commercial breaks were removed and I received longer shows in return. When done well, product placement can be better than commercials.

Originally posted @ Sakalbujan Magazine