Reality TV offers ads no immunity

Future of 30-second spots questioned

Attendees got a dose of reality — the uncertain future of advertising in nonscripted TV — at Wednesday’s Hollywood Radio and TV Society luncheon.

“Survivor” host Jeff Probst, who moderated the panel, asked the gathering of reality TV purveyors to describe the state of sponsorship in primetime.

” ‘Challenged’ is the word that comes to mind,” said “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” exec producer Michael Davies.

Davies questioned the future of 30-second spots, noting that the brands he deals with are currently focused on “the question of whether advertising in the gaps between things makes sense anymore.”

“America’s Next Top Model” exec producer-host Tyra Banks said she works closely with brand partners to deliver a seamless advertiser integration that’s “almost a subliminal message.”

Reality guru Mark Burnett explained that “the dumbest part of the business” is the disconnect between the producers, who pitch to creative execs, and the ad sales teams, who have an incomplete idea of the property when approaching potential advertisers.

“The people who are trying to sell … what the content was heard it third-hand,” he said, explaining how the process works more effectively when the creators can deal directly with their sponsors.

Davies noted that shows that have broken out huge have not gone through the regular process — citing the way “Survivor,” “Millionaire” and “American Idol” built brand relationships outside the traditional network process.

“Remember, we really provide the stuff between commercials,” he told the crowd, joking that the networks’ ideal business model would fill the entire timeslot with advertising.

Content is still king, however, and “Hell’s Kitchen” exec producer Arthur Smith argued that reality TV is “bigger, stronger, better than it has ever been.”

But, he added, “Viewers are more discerning. If things don’t feel fresh, then they run away.”

With no new breakout hit in recent years, will a new reality show ever once again scale the heights of “Survivor’s” early days, or the height of “American Idol”? Fleiss admitted that it will be tough.

“It’s harder to get the whole country to sit down at the same time and watch the same show,” Fleiss said. ” ‘Idol’ is a freak. It’s harder to break through.”

Banks, however, predicted that a new megahit will hit the airwaves by the time she’s 42 (she’s 35 now).

“Big Brother” exec producer Allison Grodner summed it up: “We’re all looking for where it is that this genre can go next.”

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