Tuesday, February 09, 2010

*slow handclaps*

Right, well then, what seems to have happened is that Ben Bradshaw, curses be upon his name, has announced that product placement will now be allowed to appear on British television (in case you're new to the blog, here's a list of reasons why I think product placement is a really bad thing, for program creators and viewers alike).

Full government statement here

When this process is finally rubber-stamped, the average commercial watcher will not only be shilled to in between the shows, the shows themselves will be, essentially, adverts, in which appearing brands will make appearances every bit as carefully stage-managed as those of the actors. And possibly more prominently lit . Which means, if viewers are watching Sky, they've already paid money to watch adverts between the shows, and adverts in the shows. Oh, and if they're watching on 4oD, their viewing habits are also being collected, packaged up, and sold to data companies. But I digress.

The announcement contains what initially appears to be a little bit of good news:

"Our legislation will specifically prohibit the placement of products and services in the following categories: alcoholic drinks; foods and drinks high in fat, salt or sugar; gambling; smoking accessories; over-the-counter medicines; and infant formula and follow-on formula."

Which is laudable, and great, and so on, but now leaves me wondering if carrying on with PP now makes any sense at all. Assuming that PP can contribute up to 3% of programming budgets (the commonly accepted ratio in the US), cutting junk food and alcohol out of the equation is probably going to reduce that by at least a half, perhaps even two thirds.

So the trust between program-maker and viewer has now been broken for less money than traditionally ends up going on the catering. Is that suddenly going to improve British televisions' "competitiveness... against the rest of the EU"? No of course not. In my laughably naive way, I assumed the best way to make British television competitive against the rest of the world, let alone the EU, was by making it better, but instead we appear to be throwing away something that made us special, and and trying to be more like everyone else instead.

And now this line has been crossed, look out for production companies going back to the government in a few years or so and complaining about 'unfair limitations'/''restrictions of choice' and so on, until they have their way and either the restrictions are lifted, or certain products suddenly start to be re-categorised as not-quite-as-unhealthy-as-previously-assumed.

Either way, none of Ben Bradshaw's statement answers the following questions, which I've raised before, but may as well bang into the ground again:

1. Where is this extra money going to come from, bearing in mind television's current biggest problem is advertisers moving away from television?

2. What are the guarantees that production companies won't simply nab any PP money that does come their way long before it gets to program budgets and shovel it over to their shareholders instead?

And most importantly:

3. In what way does this make a better experience for the average television viewer?

Answers on a postcard, because I don't have any.


Phill said...

I very much agree with your sentiments.

It seems to me that "Well, the rest of Europe are doing it" is a pretty poor argument for implementing product placement.

And none of the concerns raised have been adequately answered.

What I find distressing about all of this is that I think British TV has some of the best shows in the world already. (Mainly ones you've been involved with writing... sorry, I had to say that ;) Adding in product placement will surely make it, well, a bit more crap. It's shooting yourself in the foot really... "let's make our TV programmes worse, that will make people want to watch them!"

It's symptomatic of the current trend of businesses and corporations to cut costs at every single juncture. I don't understand the logic. "If we cut costs, we make more money!" Yes, but if cutting costs means you make a worse product, people won't buy it. Ergo you won't make any money.

Can you guess what one of my buttons is? *ahem* sorry, I'll stop ranting on a comment!

Michael Cook said...

Have you been watching Glee on E4?

I'm three episodes in, really enjoying it, and the only silly minor glitch is that - three times now - I've been wrenched out of the action because characters have been banging on about their MySpace pages.

I guess Glee is on Fox? Rupert Murdoch's Fox? Owner of MySpace's Fox?

Unknown said...

Are advertisers moving away from television because of pirating and On Demand channels? Is the golden age of television dead? Do you see a decent revival through the Internet as a possibility? As an aspiring TV writer moving into a world that is going through these changes, these are important questions to me. There's so much I don't understand :(

James Henry said...

Phil: rant away!

Michael: what's annoying is that that mention may well have been entirely innocent - but when PP is involved, you start to automatically take the more cynical view - and you'd probably be correct in doing so.

Khyan: I think it's those, and the fragmentation of channels - although whether there ever was a Golden Age of television is up for debate, to be honest. I'm not sure television even needs to be 'revived' to be honest - just more imagination used to make better shows that stop trying to please everyone.

There's a lot I don't understand either, although I'm fairly confident that people will always want content, so I'm by no means as gloomy about the prospects of the medium as a lot of other writers.

Jayne said...

Oh bollocks.

Fat Roland said...

It's a slightly hopeless gesture, but I've forwarded the link to this post to Ben Bradshaw. He needs to read it.

Boz said...

What Jayne Said.

(This comment comes to your courtesy of the good people at Blogger...)

Fat Roland said...

Ben Bradshaw's "people" have read this blog post. They've replied to me with a VERY LONG email defending the decision, but generally reads as follows.

My last paragraph is a doozer.

"... some specific prohibitions ... potential effects on health and wellbeing, especially that of children, particularly in mind ...

"... will benefit UK television companies and programme makers ... meaningful commercial benefits ...

"... creative industries need all the help we can give ... [otherwise] would jeopardise the competitiveness of UK programme makers ...

"... UK audiences are accustomed to product placement in films [and in] imported television programmes ... new direction ... wide variety of items such as clothes, cars, electronic equipment ...

"... greater realism in narratives ... more realistic high quality programming ... signalling of product placement requires that it should be signalled to viewers before and after the programme and after any advertising breaks."

James Henry said...

Crikey. Thanks for passing it on, FR!

patroclus said...

Oh for fuck's sake, if Ben Bradshaw wants 'greater realism' he can look out of the fucking window.

If this had come in earlier, just think of all the programmes we could have seen that portrayed Toyota as a safe, solid, desirable make of car. That would have been very realistic, wouldn't it?


Time for my lie-down, I think.

Chris Wright said...

To alleviate the mood (possibly) to this dire decision I came across the Alien egg image and it linked to the whole lot... http://www.b3ta.com/challenge/productplacement/

Eleanor said...

I third jayne's bollocks. If somewhat belatedly.

And I'll raise you a DAMN!

Eleanor said...

ARGH! He's my local MP! RIGHT! GRR!! Emailed the short-sighted silly person.
It may be too late.
They may have ignored my previous comments.
They will most likely ignore my current email.
But I will remember that he is in favour of this silliness....

Tess Alps said...

Hello everyone,

Too late I'm sure to catch people with a few comments, but what the heck.

James knows me very well but I should probably make it clear to you all that my job is to promote the benefits of TV advertising - on all platforms, linear and on-demand. I like my job in part because I like to think of myself helping to bring more money to TV to make better programmes - and to keep James in honest employment.

Are advertisers moving away from TV? Depends what you mean. TV has actually increased its share of total advertising (including all forms of online& search etc) over the last two years, but sadly it's been at a time when total advertising has been hit very hard.

In 2008 total advertising declined by 4.9% and TV by 2.9%. In 2009 we think that total advertising declined by nearly 13% and TV declined by just under 10%. Traumatic for everyone in the TV industry but actually a dream compared to the print industry where declines of over 20% were the norm.

The question is will advertising bounce back? There is definitely a long-term structural trend away from display ads (eg online banners, TV spots, posters etc) towards techniques like email marketing where advertisers can just use their databases and disintermediate any professional medium on- or off-line.

However, so far this year TV advertising is increasing strongly, albeit from a very poor 2009 base, and we're seeing nearly 20% increases in April and May which would recoup all the losses of 2008 and 2009.

The real difficulty for programme budgets is that, while total linear TV viewing has never been as high, and about 35% more ads are being seen (at normal speed) compared to 10 years ago, it's spread across more channels.

ITV1,Channel 4 and Five have lower shares of both viewing (like BBC1 & 2) and money; they were the channels which commissioned the majority of UK original production in the commercial sector. However digital switchover is nearly complete and it's very likely that their shares will stabilise at that point.

My shareholders have diverse attitudes to product placement; ITV is the most enthusiastic simply because they make a lot of their own programmes. Others, like C4 and Sky are more equivocal about it. The people who are opposed to it include people like you, who object from a moral and aesthetic position. But there are also plenty of opponents who don't share your sensibilities but who believe that a) it won't generate much money from a lot of effort b) PP doesn't work anyway for brands c) it will just divert money from TV spot advertising so there will be no net gain. The body which represents British advertisers is opposed to paid PP, it might surprise you to learn, and the most enthusiastic champion is PACT which represents all the independent production companies. So in no way is this advertisers forcing something on poor old producers.

Sorry to have gone on at absurd length. If you want more facts about TV you might like to have a look at our website www.thinkbox.tv some time.