The Hot Debate Over The Future of Television Advertising: Commercials vs. Product Placement

Ryann Rasmussen | May 15, 2014

Product Placement

Nearly two years ago, DISH landed in hot water with a number of major television networks that sued the company over the automatic ad-skipping technology offered by its powerful DVR, the Hopper. While the Hopper’s technology and other technological advancements like streaming undoubtedly make it easier for the viewer to skip ads, the truth is they’ve been opting out of ads for decades. Ditching commercials to grab a snack, changing the channel, and fast-forwarding through the commercials of recorded shows isn’t anything new.

The buzz about the DISH lawsuit has tapered off, but the controversy it sparked over commercials hasn’t dwindled in the least. In fact, over the last several months it’s been ignited by the increase in product placements. By placing products and brands within the show itself, viewers can’t evade product placements like they can commercials, and that’s good news for networks that count on advertising dollars to produce and market their shows. Product placements don’t disrupt the viewers entertainment experience in the way commercials do, and that means the viewer not only enjoys a more seamless television experience, they save time too.

The commercial verses product placement debate sparks a handful of fascinating questions: Has the era of commercials come to a close? Are product placements the future of television advertising? How willing are viewers to accept product placements? What other revenue generating avenues might networks explore?

We tracked down several prominent television bloggers and media industry powerhouses to find out their thoughts on these questions and more. What we discovered is a that this debate is far from settled.

Marc Eastman, Owner of AreYouScreening, a hot entertainment blog offered these compelling thoughts about the future of the current television advertisement model.

“The short answer is that I think commercials, as we traditionally think of them, will be gone completely in a few years, except in special circumstances like the Super Bowl, etc. Something different has to happen. Too many people have DVRs, and eventually everyone will. I have a feeling that one option will be for television to come full circle and have shows sponsored by an advertiser.

Bruce Simmons, sci-fi and fantasy entertainment guru and Owner of Cinema Static, is a bit less optimistic about the potential of product placement.

“As far as more product placement in TV goes, I think if this were to actually happen, it might look good at first, with more products on-screen and fewer ads.  But like any change that takes place, the networks will still be beholden to the advertisers who pay their bills.  Every season of TV pulls in around $10 billion from advertisers for the basic networks.  I don’t think the networks will buck the system to make the TV audience happy.”

Summing up his take on the topic, Simmons says, “Sure, product placement seems nice, but I don’t think it will fly in the face of deep pockets from the established school of adverts.”

Well established television blogger Matt Carter thinks product placement is the wave of the future, but cautions that proper product placement is fundamental to success.

“Regardless of whether or not viewers may enjoy in-show product placement, the truth here is that it’s a reality of the times. With more and more people using DVRs, Hoppers, or other software, the ‘commercial break’ is marginalized. In the long-term, it’s necessary for there to be more product placement in TV shows to properly fund them, and due to this it is a model I support.

Carter goes on to say, “The challenge becomes proper integration. You can have too much of a good thing, and aggressively pushing a product in a program can be a viewer turn-off. Advertisers need to find programs that suit their brand and their demographic, and find a way to implement to where inclusion becomes almost seamless. You can have an ad that does not make viewers feel like they are getting pulled out of the world of the show.” In short, “good” product placement can be a great alternative to commercials, but poor product placement is television turn-off.

When Keven Skinner, Editor of Gotham-News was asked his view on product placement in television shows, he had no trouble articulating it.

“There’s always been product placement in television but I think in an era now that’s so critical and judgmental on every single aspect from frame to frame in the digital age it’s become more criticized now that everyone’s a critic online. We’d see a closeup of some dude in the ‘80s drinking a Coke and think nothing of it but when we see a green Hyundai on The Walking Dead it’s a sellout move. In an era where people download everything for free, product placement advertising is a necessary evil that’s been there from the very beginning and as long as it isn’t distracting then why the hell not?”

Skinner also revealed his views on television streaming and the advance of DVRs.

“In the age of DVR and commercial skipping I personally don’t know how I lived without it before because I rarely have time to watch my television live anymore. You’d think that this is bad for business but in an era where everything is so readily available in other outlets like annoying pop-up ads or sponsored Tweets, I think it’s safe to assume that more information is passing through audience brains than ever regardless of being able to skip the typical commercial break. With easier accessibility to television it forces advertisers to think outside the box and reach their target demographic. I’m all for this type of forward thinking.”

An especially popular entertainment blogger with nearly a decade of experience, we were quite curious to find out how Jacqui, the Founder of CouchAvenue, felt about the topic. Jacqui, whose full name is Jumanah Al-Ghadban, offered up a positive outlook.

“Personally I wouldn’t mind it if the product placement wasn’t intrusive (i.e. What soap opera shows nowadays do, where they just sing praise of the product their advertising and such).  If done right this could be awesome especially since there will be less commercials.”

There’s no disputing the fact that viewers worship television, but distain commercials. And in today’s world where consumers’ free time is exceedingly valuable, there’s an increased intolerance for time wasting commercials. Yet, television networks still need advertising dollars to produce top-quality programming. The answer is product placement. Product placement is less disruptive, saves time and may actually prove to be a more valuable approach to advertising, offering an increased ROI over traditional commercials. In short, product placement is the win-win all parties have been searching for.

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Photo: David Goehring
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