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TV product placement won’t rule the waves

September 13, 2009
Canute?

Canute?

If former culture secretary Andy Burnham may be said to resemble La Passionara (Watchword: “They shall not pass”; of course, they did eventually), his successor Ben Bradshaw appears to belong to the Canute school of pragmatism. He, if reluctantly, has waved through the inevitable. I’m talking about product placement on UK commercial television channels.

To be honest, the subject is something of a damp squib, except among content purists who emanate from another television age. Product placement is everywhere. Not only in the cinema, and therefore later on telly; but in virtually every American syndicated TV show (of which there are many) airing over here. Which means, in effect, that US brands like Coca-Cola on American Idol are getting a free ride second time round.

Not only that, there has long been a “grey market” which dare not speak its name. It gets around the regulations by giving branded props, free of charge, to programme makers. Specialist agencies take a turn, but TV stations can’t touch a penny: result, brand-owners are quids in because they don’t have to pay a real market price.

All that – barring continuing restrictions on the BBC’s and children’s programmes – will now be swept away. And not before time. Even our Brussels regulators think the UK position is absurd, which neatly sums the issue up.

Commercial television companies will be keeping the champagne on ice, however. Legitimising product placement is not exactly a financial panacea for our beleaguered broadcast media sector, beset by recession and destructive structural change. Initially, PP will be worth a measly £100m a year (DCMS estimate), compared with total TV advertising revenue of nearly £3bn.

Still, as a famous advertising slogan says: Every little helps.

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