Media: Double Standards - Why product placement may not save British TV

One television insider argues that product placement could be very exciting, while the other foresees a 'confusing mess' generating little income.

ALASTAIR ROBERTS - HEAD OF CORPORATE DEVELOPMENT, ENDEMOL UK

- How exciting are the Government changes to product placement rules and will they boost the commercial TV sector?

We're very excited. Almost all other countries in the European Union are allowing product placement, so it seems like a sensible decision to allow it here in the UK. Over time, product placement could put more than £100 million a year into the UK production and broadcasting sector, which would offset at least in part the £160 million reduction in programme budgets at ITV, Channel 4 and Five that we saw last year.

- How limiting and confusing will it be that certain product categories will be excluded?

We're disappointed that the Government has decided to regulate product placement of alcohol, HFSS foods and gambling more tightly than it regulates television spot advertising and sponsorship for those same categories. We would prefer a single, consistent approach across all commercial promotion of these categories on television, and the one that is already in place for spot advertising and sponsorship seems to be working well.

- ISBA has argued that there is a case for maintaining the status quo of unofficial product placement, in the form of legal, unpaid, prop placement. Does it have a point?

We'll probably see a dual economy of free prop placement in shows where there is limited demand from advertisers for their products to appear in those shows, and paid product placement where a hit show's strong brand and audience make it appealing for advertisers to pay for their products to appear in that show. (And product placement will continue to be prohibited in all BBC programmes, so prop placement will continue there unaffected.)

- How much do you feel that relaxing the rules on product placement will open the floodgates for an attack on branded content more generally?

It's more likely that we'll see the opposite: the regulations that the Government is proposing for product placement are quite tight and we won't see the doomsday scenarios that many have predicted. So rather than precipitating an attack on branded content, we should see some innovative and creative product placements that persuade people that it's possible to produce branded content that retains its editorial integrity and appeals to large audiences.

- What current trends in branded content are potentially more interesting and commercially important than product placement?

TV shows that also have a presence in the "real world", such as Nintendo's Britain's Best Brain or Apple's iTunes Live, are much more exciting than straightforward advertiser-funded programming. We're also very interested in branded content and applications that work across digital and on TV in an integrated way. Making TV more digital and more social is becoming increasingly important for producers and brands. We see these trends as complementary.

- Will commercial broadcasting become increasingly reliant on brands to fund programmes?

Brands will probably provide increasing amounts of funding at the fringes of the broadcasters' schedules and we're already seeing increasing levels of brand funding for genres such as niche sports and music, but broadcasters are continuing to invest strongly in peaktime hits.

- What's your idea of the perfect branded content opportunity?

You can invest all the time and money in the world in a highly sophisticated branded entertainment proposition but it won't go anywhere unless there's a great TV programme at its heart. Everything else flows from that.

MARK CULLEN - CHIEF EXECUTIVE, ETV MEDIA GROUP

- How exciting are the Government changes to product placement rules and will they boost the commercial TV sector?

Not very exciting at all. Even in largely unregulated markets such as the US and Australia, product placement is not a big earner for broadcasters and outside of really big shows such as 24 or American Idol represents a small fraction of income when compared with spot advertising. Shock horror: product placement will not save commercial TV.

- How limiting and confusing will it be that certain product categories will be excluded?

It's not very surprising that certain categories have been excluded. There is a broader philosophical question as to why certain categories are allowable as spot ads but not as product placement categories, but UK advertising rules have long been contradictory and confusing so this is just another one to add to the list. It's perhaps more interesting to wonder if product placement in a drama for, let's say, Ford will be able to show high-speed car chases featuring a Ford in a way that would not be allowed in an ad.

- IISBA has argued that there is a case for maintaining the status quo of unofficial product placement, in the form of legal, unpaid, prop placement. Does it have a point?

ndies will argue that this is essential and broadcasters will suspect money has changed hands and try to push the indies down further on cost. I suspect it will be a mess as involving the ad sales departments in the creative process of programme-making will just confuse everyone - remember the Orange Gold Spot cinema ads? Eventually, this will be resolved but expect a couple of years of confusion as everyone fights their own corner.

- How much do you feel that relaxing the rules on product placement will open the floodgates for an attack on branded content more generally?

Current funding of commercial TV doesn't work and the industry is in crisis. All commercial television is funded by brands and it's inevitable that brands will become more important in the funding of television programmes that attract audiences as an alternative to spot advertising. Brands will want to own a piece of the action, however, and not just facilitate programmers and broadcasters. This new dynamic will create opportunities for smart agencies and innovative production companies alike.

- What current trends in branded content are potentially more interesting and commercially important than product placement?

Yes, branded content is a more interesting space but a lot of the more exciting stuff is happening internationally. The UK is only a medium-sized commercial market and hampered by the fact that UK broadcasters have been slow to embrace branded television.

- Will commercial broadcasting become increasingly reliant on brands to fund programmes?

Without question. The problem is that commercial broadcasters still have their heads in the sand on this one, while slashing programme costs to meeting falling ad revenue projections. At the same time, the broadcaster's main advantage - ownership of a scarce resource, analogue bandwidth - is disappearing and content has thousands of alternative routes to reach the consumer.

- What's your idea of the perfect branded content opportunity?

One where a show gets made that the broadcaster couldn't afford without commercial support, that attracts an increased share of audience and together the broadcaster, brand and production company develop a format that can be exploited internationally.

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