Monday, November 17, 2008

The Rise of Product Integration

Every single first-year show we’ve launched has an advertising partner in place, which has probably never happened in broadcast TV.

- Ben Silverman, co-chairman of NBC Entertainment

In Brian Stelter, "Low Ratings End Show and a Product Placement," The New York Times, November 13, 2008

When NBC ordered the cancellation of My Worst Enemy recently, it meant more than the demise of a series that many in the network were sure would succeed. It also marked the end of a program that it had sculpted to highlight General Motors cars in a deal that had GM underwriting some of the production costs. Such "product integration" deals are becoming common on television, and NBC's Silverman is one of their greatest proponents on NBC-Universal's broadcast and cable properties. The reasoning behind it is straightforward: The network gets money to help create the programs, while advertisers get the ability to present their products within programs at a time when viewers are increasingly likely to use DVRs to fast-forward through regular commercials.

In the case of My Own Worst Enemy, NBC and GM "teamed up early in the production process, created commercials together and carefully added the Camaro and Traverse brands to the story lines." The lead character, played by Christian Slater, had two personalities; he drove the Traverse sport utility vehicle in his ordinary middle-class father manifestation and the Camaro converticle when a secret agent. Of course, even the best laid plans cannot guarantee success with the audience, and Nielsen's ratings doomed the show.

The demise of My Own Enemy by no means spells the demise of the basic product-integration business model. Quite the contrary: NBC not only has built several current shows around advertiser interests (including Knight Rider, with Ford), it is pushing the concept forward with gusto and sensitivity to the interests of specific advertisers. In the words of Marc Graboff, the other co-chair on NBC Entertainment, "It's not about sticking a Coke can on a desk anymore. It's an evolving form."

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