Prepare for the whiff of burnt rubber in the air as the government begins its u-turn on product placement in UK TV programmes.
There is no doubt that this is a fair decision. Product placement is already on our screens in various forms within acquired programming and as legitimate prop provision. We can trust that broadcasters, programme makers and advertisers will be culturally sensitive and won’t allow it to alienate British viewers. The difference to the viewing experience will be negligible and programmes will arguably become more authentic.
The introduction of product placement raises some interesting questions. Who will set the price and do the deals? Who will benefit from the money (TV companies, agencies, producers…)? Will this tempt advertisers who traditionally haven’t used TV as much – Prada, Louis Vuitton – onto our screens and into scripts where they can be confident of the environment? Will it feature in sponsored TV shows; could Toyota sponsor a show where Skoda has been placed for instance? Could brands be allowed to indulge in negative product placement, like getting Frank Gallagher to wear your competitor’s sports shoe? How will its effectiveness be measured?
No doubt these questions and many more will be clarified during the consultation period. But product placement also raises a concern that I’m keen to make very clear.
The estimated amount of revenue it will bring in is modest compared with spot advertising, but no less welcome for that. Figures between £35m over 5 years up to £100m a year have been bandied about. Whatever it is, it will join the growing number of sources of advertiser revenue additional to the £3.4bn of TV spot advertising. Ofcom reported recently that TV sponsorship was worth £180m and interactive services £70m in 2008.
This liberalisation has come about in order to attract extra, new money into original UK TV productions. We must work together to ensure the revenue for product placement is new money and doesn’t cannibalise the existing ad revenue, much of which goes into UK production.
It would be unbelievably idiot of the TV industry to promote placement by undermining the status of spot advertising. Yet there are signs of that happening already within the placement and production communities.
There have been a few alarming statements made in response to the expectation of relaxation, re-igniting some of the common untruths about ad-skipping and attention. We don’t need product placement because spot advertising doesn’t work; we have never watched so many TV spots at normal speed – 2.45 bn a day in the UK – and their effectiveness is growing. Anyone who tries to sell placement by giving misinformation about TV spot advertising will enjoy Thinkbox’s full displeasure. Don’t even think about it.
Product placement is a completely new TV commercial opportunity, complementary to other TV formats, that deserves its own new cash.