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TV product placement studied

Alliances with advertisers seen as future trend

This article was corrected on Jan. 24, 2003.

NEW ORLEANS — One NATPE panel of industry professionals dissected the burgeoning programming trends, even challenging each other to develop new business models, while a panelist on midseason shows noted a study on product placement is in the works.

Initiative Media of North America is partnering with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to study viewers’ impressions of the effectiveness of product placement in TV shows. The study is fueled by an increasing number of suppliers wanting to partner with advertisers to offset production costs; an example of a “Survivor” episode that had a team uncovering a buried chest with the Mountain Dew logo on it was used as a prime example of products getting into programs’ narratives.

“If we don’t have the partnerships, we won’t be able to compete,” said Discovery president Billy Campbell, who figures program alliances with advertisers will be a significant factor in programming decisions in the next six to 12 months.

“The entire model is changing and we don’t want to reach the point where we have to ask viewers to pay for TV,” said Stacey Lynn Koerner, senior VP and director of broadcast research for Initiative Media. Koerner was speaking at a panel, “Stay Tuned,” moderated by Daily Variety executive editor Elizabeth Guider.

Earlier, Universal Domestic TV prexy Steve Rosenberg, Warner Bros. TV Group exec VP Bruce Rosenblum, Tribune TV president Pat Mullen, Magna Global chief Bill Cella and Discovery’s Campbell all agreed product placements need to happen “organically.” Their visions of how to get the biggest and longest-lasting audiences for TV programs, though, differed greatly.

“Repurposing can be a real risk to a brand,” Mullen said, noting shows have been overused in their first cycle. He cited a Sunday afternoon rerun of primetime programs from the WB that cut into firstrun ratings.

Rosenberg, whose company has cable and network runs of the “Law and Order” franchises and “Monk,” countered by citing the need to generate the largest audience possible. “The more opportunities we have to develop an audience in the first run will find that audience following in a second cycle.” Secondly, “Monk” has increased the USA network’s brand appeal by being on ABC’s primetime schedule.

Then there’s the concern that the banks of sitcoms that come available after their second year on the air won’t be in supply the way they have been. “That’s because of the number of reality shows,” Mullen noted. “We have to look at creative partnerships to create new programming to replace sitcom blocks.”

Much discussion focused on the WB’s “Gilmore Girls” and the Johnson & Johnson-sponsored telepic “Door to Door” as programs that were developed to fit advertisers’ needs.

Though how reality shows will affect sitcom inventory or whether these partnerships will blossom quickly remains to be seen. “It will be five years before we have any empirical evidence,” Rosenblum noted.

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