Product Placement

The culture secretary, Ben Bradshaw, has confirmed that the government will allow product placement in television programmes for the first time.

In a written ministerial statement, Bradshaw said the new regime would “provide meaningful commercial benefits to commercial television companies and programme-makers while taking account of the legitimate concerns that have been expressed”.

Those legitimate concerns will no doubt be people like me, whining about how TV could be ruined by people weeping uncontrollably in a drama, only to stop and drink a can of pop in profile and then winking into camera burping the latest marketing slogan.

Not that this would ever happen you understand.

He said that, apart from Denmark, the UK was the only EU member that had yet to allow television product placement or express a firm intention to do so.

“Not to do so would jeopardise the competitiveness of UK programme-makers as against the rest of the EU, and this is something which we cannot afford to do,” he said.

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 won’t be allowed on-air… so expect to see cars and technology featuring heavily, as seen in the James Bond films.

ITV will be the broadcaster who stands to gain most from this.

They said: “While we do not necessarily agree with the restrictions placed on certain categories, it is a step in the right direction as it will deliver additional revenue for investment in original content in the UK.”

What do you think? Could this be bad for British TV?

Andy Burnham used to be our culture secretary and he gave the thumbs down on product placement on British TV. Ace! Ben Bradshaw, his successor might just be giving it the thumbs up. Drat!

I understand why TV suits want some product placement on our shows. Advertising revenue has fallen through the floorboards and, relatively speaking, the TV stations are stony broke. However, I’m not especially keen on the whole notion of product placement.

Of course, I realise that this very article is surrounded by advertisements. Even some of the words in this rant will be highlighted as keywords to generate cash for my bosses. So any anti-advertising angle I may take may seem rather hypocritical.

Naturally, I have nothing against advertising per se. I do have issues with the blurring of commercial endeavour and drama.

It’s difficult to swallow a convieniently placed beer can or watch whilst trying to get into a gripping storyline or whatever.

This has been going on in The States for ages now… there was a toe-curling scene in one episode of Heroes which saw Claire turning the show into a commercial for a brand of car. It was needless and stuck out like a sore thumb.

On it goes. Jack Bauer uses Dell Computers, the Sex and the City crones aren’t exactly shy about promoting various shoe makes. American Idol is well known for the Coke cups that sit on their desks.

Apparently, in the US, even the subtitling is sponsored which is hardly surprising when you consider most shows are pretty much one third commercials.

When talking about this, I’m always reminded of the one that got away… and that was in Britain. In one episode of Only Fools and Horses, Del was continually seen drinking cans of Heineken, label side out, drinking in profile. Yet no-one ever mentions it.

Naturally, product placement is a part of real life. If you drink fizzy pop, chances are you’re not covering it up in the hope that you’re not influencing anyone. In Sex and the City for example, you kinda understand why they’re going on about Shoe A by Designer X.

That said, I am grateful that British TV hasn’t succumbed to becoming a walking advertorial for the highest bidder. For that reason alone, we can feel slightly smug about ‘artistic integrity’, even if it is a load of old cobblers.

What’s more, we could miss out on all those fun, invented products like Honey Bee Flakes or Newton and Ridley ales.

Still, TV could stand to make more than £100m a year through this which will hopefully make for better shows to watch. I thinks it’s fair to assume that the broadcasters will have to be a bit smart about the ways in which a product is placed… devaluing their own shows would be suicide. It’ll be interesting to see how this pans out.

(These words were typed on a Xygiano Steam-Powered EcoComputer and the writer was powered by KerBlammo! The energy drink for those who think!)

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