KILLINGS, daily columns and blog —

Issue Six

Commercially Viable: the future of broadcast television

by Guest Author , August 19, 20114 Comments

In Issue Six of Kill Your Darlings, Laurie Steed described the strange fate of NBC‘s ‘Chuck’. Here, Laurie examines further television’s Faustian pact with advertising.

I have an agreement with television: it can sell me stuff as long as I can watch entertaining, innovative programming. To reiterate, I will endure sporadic spruiking as thanks for free access to a cornucopia of plots, characters and conflicts.

For me, advertisements are like Charlie Sheen: annoying and offensive, but ultimately an essential part of what makes free-to-air television viable.

With traditional ad sales declining, television is resorting to new types of brand integration. Product placement, which in layman’s terms is the placing of branded material in a context usually devoid of advertisements, has been the standard approach for decades. Put into practice, it looks like this:

 

 

A 2006 survey by the US-based Association of National Advertisers cited various reasons for choosing product placement over traditional advertising. These ranged from creating a ‘stronger emotional connection’, to the targeting of a specific group. In other words, it’s not enough to sell stuff during the ad breaks; they want the shows themselves to be compelling, immutable advertisements.

But where do we draw the line? Recent episodes of NBC’s Chuck saw major corporate sponsors inserted into narratives and even given storylines. A case in point was season four episode ‘Chuck vs. The Masquerade’, where Chuck’s sister Ellie and her husband Devon  visit mega retail outlet ‘Buy More’ to find something to help their baby sleep. Soon after, they find the perfect product, Cloud B’s ‘Sleep Sheep’. (You can view the scene here.)

After the episode screened in the US, Cloud B and fan site Chuck TV offered viewers a 50% discount on any ‘Sleep Sheep’ purchase in return for ‘liking’ the Sleep Sheep on Facebook. Soon after, Chuck TV again encouraged fans to purchase the product in support of Chuck.

Fans of the show were starting to get used to this. The series only reached a third season thanks to a sponsorship deal with Subway restaurants, which dictated ‘significant integration into the show’. Put simply, this meant plot lines about Subway sandwiches. Prior to the show’s renewal, fans were urged to visit Subway and ‘show their support’, which they did, buying footlongs, drinks and cookies in the hope they’d given Chuck another life.

This is not all that surprising for a show like Chuck; it’s in part a series about commercial interests, so an element of corporate crossover is inevitable given the show’s initial premise and indeed, many scenes are set in the Buy More. But what about an older program like The Cosby Show? Surely content produced without product placement is impervious from such commercial hijacking? Well, no, not according to companies like Mirriad.

Mirriad is a digital product placement facilitator. It inserts brands into previously recorded films and TV shows. Here, the agreement comes not from a contemporary merging of company and advertiser, but from a realignment of non-commercial content with commercial products. The end result is a visually stunning, product heavy montage. Or to put it another way, it’s Forrest Gump: now with extra ads.

 

 

Mirriad has already signed a deal with Channel Seven, with more networks likely to follow suit. What then, for the future of television? Can the viewer help define an engaging, culturally relevant medium? Well, I guess that depends. How much are you willing to pay for the privilege?

- Laurie Steed’s essay, ‘Revenge of the Nerd: Fetish, Fantasy and Chuck’ appears in Kill Your Darlings Issue Six.




  • http://www.jasonensor.com/ Jason Ensor

    A really great article. Like you, I’m troubled by the ways in which the profit-motive is insinuating itself into nearly every aspect of our lives. The retrospective branding of content is a new development and no doubt the offspring of those annoying advertisements that popup during mainstream programming (which often cover a third of the screen). Even though it is part of a long-running trend, it is still disturbing how marketing companies are doing their best to turn all entertainment into platforms for commodification or, at the very least, congenial adjuncts of advertising. I wonder though how the retrospective re-branding is decided since some choices could create new contexts and interpretations of content, even controversy. It is not a trivial thing, since the addition of an image into pre-existing content does more than merely re-shape the aesthetic identity of the television program in question. Consider, for example, the subtext about actors portraying Oscar-winning roles if the bench Forest Gump was sitting on contained a poster advertisement for ‘Tropic of Thunder’ or if the Crate & Bake box in ‘The Cosby Show’ was replaced with a copy of Pauline Hanson’s book ‘The Truth’. Extreme examples certainly but for every new advertisement inserted into pre-existing content, an idea is embedded that goes beyond the function of the thing itself. Advertisers, of course, bank on this but the context in which their advertisement is experienced may have some multiple social readings in potentially unforeseen ways. I wonder too how far retrospective advertising will respond to cultural preferences and local differences, say like how Apple has alternative advertisements for the iPad in different territories. Overall, it seems our lives are becoming more and more a part of what seems like a permanent marketing campaign.

  • genevieve

    Not The WALK OFF!! NOOOOOOOO.
    Perhaps another title for this post might be ‘do not be distracted by all the dazzling ads’!

  • Laurie

    Thanks for the commments, guys. Genevieve, you’ve articulated a really important point. My favourite moments in film are devoid of a commercial context; indeed, if an overt commercial angle is present, I’ll often distance myself from the emotional resonance of a film or TV show. This is advertising at its most devious, whereby a cultural experience, be it a song, historical moment or key scene in a film is hijacked and placed into a commercial context. The idea is ads becoming our cultural experiences, but viewers can inherently sense an overt sales pitch. Hence, they take a cultural experience, insert their product and hope for an intellectual (and emotional) link between the two.

    Jason, I agree, its fascinating to consider how much cultural preferences will be taken into account. One would think they’d feature local products, but I doubt the context will be so adjusted. This again, is part of the problem. When studios (or indeed advertising companies) are trying to “imagine” Australia, they have no relevant context, only sterotypes and dated mythology. What then, for a contemporary discourse on Australian identity, the recognition of local differences and cultural anomalies?

  • http://www.GIJ6nwY.net cyUX1

    838330 346335Hello there, just became alert to your blog via Google, and discovered that it

West Bank

David Donaldson

Whitewashing occupation? Bill Shorten and the Israel Lobby

Racism and military occupation have no place in the modern world, and are certainly not something looked upon favourably by a majority of Australians. Yet while apartheid, for example, has become a byword for shame and racism, the Labor Opposition leader feels comfortable asserting that some Israeli West Bank settlements are legal. Read more »

Tony Abbott

David Donaldson

Abbott and Brandis’ culture war backfires

What is supposed to happen in a culture war is that conservatives use a controversial issue to drive a ‘wedge’ through the left, forcing a split between factions. In Australia, this usually means pitting Catholic unionists against their socially liberal colleagues in the Labor party. Read more »

climate change

David Donaldson

Australia is going backwards on climate policy

During the Howard years, it was usual for Australia to be awarded ‘Fossil of the Day’ by climate advocacy groups whenever it attended a climate negotiation conference. The award signifies the country that had done the most to hinder climate change negotiations, and Australia has won a pile of them. Read more »

Zoe Pilger

Carody Culver

Girls, eat your hearts out

Middle class hipsters, conceptual artists and third-wave feminists have long been easy targets for mockery, so I admit that I wasn’t expecting anything too groundbreaking when I picked up Zoe Pilger’s Eat My Heart Out, a satirical romp through contemporary London that reads like a surreal mash-up of Broad City, Bridget Jones’s Diary and Less Than Zero. Read more »

Laika, Astronaut Dog

Carody Culver

Houston, we have a fabrication

As someone who doesn’t have children, I’m no less resistant than any of my book-loving friends-with-kids to the charm of a beautiful picture book. So when I spotted Laika: Astronaut Dog by writer and illustrator Owen Davey, with its charming retro-style artwork Read more »

& Sons

Carody Culver

WASPiration: David Gilbert’s & Sons

As someone who’s always secretly aspired to being a WASP (before you mercilessly judge me for this, I should clarify that my desire has less to do with attaining elevated social and financial status than with being able to dress like a character in The Great Gatsby Read more »

American Pickers

Julia Tulloh

Eccentric junk collectors held high on American Pickers

The History Channel’s American Pickers, currently in its sixth season, is one of the most relaxing and enjoyable reality series on TV. It’s not a competition show, it doesn’t exist to objectify people and it isn’t particularly dramatic. So what’s the appeal? Read more »

Justin Timberlake

Julia Tulloh

Pleasantly forgettable: Justin Timberlake’s 20/20 Experience

On 7 March this year, tickets went on sale for the Australian leg of Justin Timberlake’s latest tour, ‘The 20/20 Experience’. All five shows sold out in a few hours. The same day, five new shows were released, with most tickets for these rapidly selling out too. Read more »

BuzzFeed

Julia Tulloh

BuzzFeed quizzes understand me

If you use social media regularly – Facebook, in particular – you’ll have completed a BuzzFeed quiz during the past month. Don’t deny it. Even if you didn’t share your results online, deep down you’re still feeling smug because the ‘What Should You Actually Eat For Lunch?’ quiz confirmed that eating ice cream was, in fact, an appropriate meal for your personality type. Read more »

The Lego Movie

Rochelle Siemienowicz

Nostalgia and today’s family-friendly films

Hollywood has always known the adults are watching alongside the kids, and that to push a film into record profits (as Lego looks set to do with a global box office of $428 million and counting), you need to appeal to ‘kids of all ages’. Read more »

nympho-poster

Rochelle Siemiennowicz

Weirdos on screen: Noah and Nymphomaniac

There are some filmmakers you’ll follow into the dark, no matter how bad the buzz is about their latest work. For me, naughty boy Lars von Trier (The Idiots, Breaking the Waves, Dogville, Antichrist, Melancholia) and strange kid Darren Aronofsky (Pi, Requiem for a Dream, Black Swan) are two filmmakers who can be loved or detested, but never ignored. Read more »

planes

Rochelle Siemienowicz

Notes from a plane

There’s an art to choosing the right film for every particular occasion, and as I nervously sit in a Qantas jet about to take off on a four-hour flight from Melbourne to Perth, the choice seems very important indeed. Read more »

tweet

Connor Tomas O'Brien

The Web as an Empathy Machine

Ad hoc Twitter projects like #RaceSwapExp neatly draw together all that is terrific and all that is terrible about the web as a system. Depending on how it is used, the web can either allow us to retreat into callousness, cliques, and fixed ways of thinking or it can function as the world’s most sophisticated and effective empathy machine. Read more »

Samsung fingers

Connor Tomas O'Brien

‘Fooled’ by technology

As I browsed the web last Tuesday, something struck me: tech companies can no longer pull off compelling April Fools’ Day hoaxes because there’s no longer even the thinnest line delineating sincerity from spoof. Read more »

wifi

Connor Tomas O'Brien

Flight 370 and gaps in the internet

On Twitter the other day, sandwiched between a slew of links to articles about the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, somebody tweeted a link to the website for Tile, a Bluetooth-enabled device that can be attached to physical objects, enabling them to be located within a 150-foot range. Read more »

Magabala Books

Danielle Binks

Magabala Books and the importance of Indigenous YA literature

Magabala is Australia’s leading independent Indigenous publishing house based in Broome, Western Australia. An independent Aboriginal Corporation since 1990, Magabala’s objective is, ‘restoring, preserving and maintaining Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures.’ Read more »

Young Adulthood Books

Danielle Binks

The young adult books of my young adulthood

In March, Penguin Books Australia rereleased Melina Marchetta’s first novel as part of its Australian Children’s Classics series. Looking for Alibrandi was first published in 1992; the first print run sold out in two months, and Marchetta’s debut went on to win the Children’s Book Council of Australia Children’s Book of the Year Award. Read more »

When You Reach Me

Danielle Binks

A children’s lit prize of one’s own

Earlier this year, Readings Bookstore announced the creation of The Readings Children’s Book Prize. The eligibility criteria for the 2014 Prize was specified as ‘a work of published fiction, written for children aged 5–12’. Read more »

EMA

Chad Parkhill

Radical honesty: EMA’s The Future’s Void

Erica M. Anderson’s recently released second solo album, The Future’s Void, has been for the most part well-received by critics – albeit with some caveats. Read more »

music theory

Chad Parkhill

Do music critics need music theory?

Canadian musician Owen Pallett – the man who arranged the strings on Arcade Fire’s albums, co-wrote the soundtrack for Spike Jonze’s Her, and has a bunch of wonderful solo albums – can now add another feather to his cap: that of an engaging music writer. Read more »

Tune Yards

Chad Parkhill

Drips, leaks, and spurts

I’ve spent the last two weeks in a state of perpetual excitement – musically speaking, that is. First came tUnE-yArDs’ new song, ‘Water Fountain’, a joyous, riotous explosion of colour and movement. Then Swans released ‘A Little God in My Hands’, a seven-minute epic of a track … Read more »

Community

Stephanie Van Schilt

Diary of a lurker: TV and Twitter

At the end of last month, global information provider Nielsen announced that Australia was to become the third country in the world with the ‘Nielsen TV Twitter Ratings’ service. According to a Nielsen Company press release, the Nielsen Twitter TV Ratings are ‘the first-ever measure of the total activity and reach of TV-related conversation on Twitter’. Read more »

Broad City

Stephanie Van Schilt

Funny Broads

‘All comparisons between Girls and Broad City should be hereto forth banned from the internet.’ I agree with Katherine Brooks. Yet the comparisons continue, ad nauseam, mostly following one of two lines of thought. Read more »

The Carrie Diaries

Stephanie Van Schilt

‘Alive Girl’ TV: The Carrie Diaries

Get ready to feel old: it’s been ten years since the final episode of Sex and the City aired. I’m not talking about the first episode back in 1998, but the final episode – the one before the two questionable movies were released. Read more »