BBC NEWS: TV product placement ‘approved’

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Bree arrives home in a new silver Lexus and all the other Desperate Housewives gather round to admire it. James Bond taps into a terror network using a Sony laptop. In Moonlight, Beth Turner takes a picture of the crime scene with her iPhone…

All of the above are examples of product placement, a form of advertising in which the products are incorporated into the drama. Recent James Bond films have featured some outrageous examples, such as a character admiring Bond’s watch, or unnecessary dwelling on the screen of his mobile phone. There’s even an official James Bond beer.

On TV, Desperate Housewives is probably the show with the most over the top placement – considering Susan is supposed to be broke, and Carlos and Gabby bankrupt, the Scavos also in financial difficulties following the collapse of their restaurant, and Mike Delfino struggling – it doesn’t stop all those brand-new cars from turning up in the neighbourhood.

ITV have been putting pressure on the British government to change the rules in the UK. It does seem unfair that imported American shows and films can have it, but home-grown dramas cannot. Now, according to the BBC, the ban is about to be lifted. The Guardian reports it here. This might prove to be the salvation of ITV and Channel 4. Coronation Street drinkers in the Rover’s Return can now drink real branded beers (unless alcohol advertising is banned); Foyle can now use a Motorola phone to call the RAF in Foyle’s War (perhaps not); Lewis can now ride around Oxford on a Trek bicycle. I’m sure they’ll think of something.

While this might introduce a new revenue stream for the broadcasters, it hardly helps the creative side of the advertising industry. We’re heading down the road of simply negotiating a placement in a show, leaving it up to the writers to incorporate it in such a way that the viewers won’t turn off. For the Tarquins and Marcuses in the creative agencies, not much work. No animated Nissans or singing builders dreaming about chips.

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August round-up of media stories

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Here are a few stories I’ve been sitting on for a while:

  1. Mountains Out Of Molehills | Information Is Beautiful
  2. Newspaper ABCs. This is an interesting story. Although newspaper circulation figures have been steadily falling anyway, a lot of figures have been artificially inflated by means of the inclusion of “bulks”: giveaway copies you might find on planes, in car showrooms, and elsewhere. A lot of newspapers are stopping the practice, while others have been negotiating with the Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC) over, ahem, exaggerated figures. Peter Preston: Fleet Street loses out in complex numbers game

    The Mail has bailed for a better figure by adding 24,000 or so “bulk” (giveaway free copies), while the Indy has accentuated its plight by knocking 9,000 off its bulk mountain. And this is only the beginning of a complex saga as the Guardian and Observer, shedding over 20,000 bulks between them in July, declare that henceforth they will renounce bulks entirely.

    Both papers are acting forthwith. This means July’s already diminished 9,000 and 12,000 copies respectively, given away free to punters on airlines, trains and the like, will no longer form part of overall claimed sales when August’s results arrive. No padding left. If the Telegraph did likewise, its UK sale would be 669,000, a full 93,000 gone in a trice, and the Times would dip below 500,000.

  3. ITV is still the best place for mass-market advertising: Response: ITV is still the UK’s top peak-time channel

    ITV1 is the home of the top five new dramas on any channel in 2009, including Whitechapel, Above Suspicion and Unforgiven; in comedy, ITV1 again tops the charts with Harry Hill’s Bafta award-winning TV Burp and the critically acclaimed and hugely successful Benidorm; and we are rightly proud of our record-breaking entertainment hits, whether it’s Britain’s Got Talent and The X Factor, or Dancing on Ice, I'm A Celebrity … and Hell’s Kitchen.

  4. Microsoft successfully launches on-demand TV: Microsoft’s MSN Video Player nears 170,000 show views in first 11 days
  5. A university study of mobile data reveals interesting patterns of behaviour. Also, that people (as they ever did) mis-report their activities, depending on their attitudes towards them: Mobile data show friend networks
  6. Here’s one for debate: an opinion piece at newsless.org on what’s “missing” from the news. A bit US-centric, but could be relevant: The 3 key parts of news stories you usually don’t get at Newsless.org
  7. A documentary film about advertising: Art & Copy Film.
  8. It’s a fact that more equal societies are happier societies. Our very unequal society is a recipe for widespread misery – at both ends of the economic scale. Human beings are social animals and we are most fulfilled when we collaborate and share. Here’s a heartening series of articles on the GOOD blog about why we like to share:
    We Like to Share
  9. Finally, I hope it hasn’t escaped your notice that the Murdoch news empire has plans to charge for online content. Some of you know my opinion about online newspapers (I think they should keep 90% of their content for the print edition, and radically reduce the amount they publish online). What do you think about free newspapers? I never pick one up when I’m in London, and it all seems like a colossal waste of paper to me. Now the Murdochs have decided to close their London free sheet. It makes sense. If you’re going to stop giving away your content online, why continue to give it away in print? Down the drain: Why Murdoch closed the London Paper

    Given the advertising downturn, most analysts expect the London Paper’s losses over the past 12 months to have worsened. Douglas McCabe, a media analyst with Enders Media in London, says: “Murdoch is saying ‘enough is enough’. He’s saying newsrooms have value and by giving away free content you devalue them. It would be somewhat ambiguous to start charging for online news and still give away news in a free paper.”

ITV losses and Friends Reunited sale

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The BBC are all over this story this morning: BBC NEWS | Business | ITV in £25m Friends Reunited sale. As well as selling the original UK social networking site to the owners of the Beano and the Dandy (who are more interested in GenesReunited than Friends…), ITV are reporting another big loss for the first half of the year.

It is amazing, because ITV is still the only truly mainstream platform for advertising. If you want to reach 6 million or more viewers to sell Marmite and Cillit Bang!, ITV is your only option. So why can’t they make any money? It’s an interesting question, the answer to which is probably, regulations

Primeval Cancelled

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Media Guardian carries the news that Primeval has been dropped by ITV. As a cheap substitute for Doctor Who, Primeval did its best to capture that Saturday evening family audience, but with half the original cast missing and an obviously slashed special effects budget, the last series struggled.

It still managed over 5 million viewers, but in ITV’s world this was hardly enough to justify the production costs. Computer-generated special effects are less than convincing when budgets are low, and Primeval kind of painted itself into a corner with the whole dinosaur + giant insect vibe.

ITV is not getting the advertising income to make shows like this. The current home of quality drama is HBO in the USA, which operates under a subscription model (like the licence fee, but voluntary), but really gets most of its money from pay-per-view boxing, so is able to afford the production budgets.

The solution, it seems to me, is clear. The BBC hinted at it last weekend, when it warned its “talent” that there would be pay cuts of between 25 and 40%. People making telly need to pay themselves a bit less.

ITV still struggling to “get” new media

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Most people realise that an “internet sensation” can happen overnight, spread around the world in 24 hours, and be over within a couple of weeks. Most people, but not ITV, who are struggling to come to terms with the success of Susan Boyle on YouTube. According to estimates in this Observer article, ITV have missed out on about £1.5 million in YouTube advertising revenues, because they dragged negotiations with Google out for so long.

Still no deal has been done. Meanwhile, the wired world is already hungry for the next overnight sensation. Snip:

Yesterday ITV seemed to be moving towards rectifying a situation that has dragged on for two weeks and left experts amazed. What observers cannot understand is why the broadcaster has failed to take advantage of the millions visiting the Boyle sites – money that is now lost forever.
An ITV spokesman confirmed the company was in discussions with YouTube. He said: “ITV, Talkback Thames and Syco are exploring the options for monetising traffic on YouTube. We are delighted that Britain’s Got Talent has been such a success across all of ITV’s platforms. Obviously any deal would have to be something that worked for all parties concerned.”

On the other hand, to paraphrase another TV talent show’s title, any deal would do, if it meant capitalising on the success while it was a, you know, success.

ITV’s outgoing chairman, Michael Grade, once called YouTube a “parasite”, living off the fruits of Old Media’s labours, which of course it is. So ITV have been beavering away, trying to build a parasite-free internet presence, and failing dismally. They announced a loss of £2.5 billion, and were forced into selling their once-successful social networking site FriendsReunited. What they should have done, of course, was accepted the rat in their foundations (YouTube) and tried to find a way of living with the parasite.

Which they might do, now that Michael Grade has announced he is to step down.

Meanwhile, ITV is a classically slow-moving Old Media beast, missing opportunity after opportunity to alleviate its pain. For example, they completely missed the boat on registering URLs (web addresses) to potentially drive traffic to their sites, which cybersquatters have already done.

Wow

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Here’s a potentially huge story:

via ITV proposes merger with Channel 4 and Five to create broadcasting giant.

ITV are about to announce really bad results. Channel 4 is struggling. Five is more or less where it was 10 years ago, with a tiny audience share, but the average person only watches Five for an hour and 20 minutes per week (in other words, they watch CSI Beardy and then 20 minutes of CSI Miami). A few years ago, the average cost of reaching 1000 adults with a TV ad was £7; it’s now £4.50. Clearly, something has to give.

You may remember from our Politics and Economics discussions (isn’t Media a broad subject?), that (according to Marx) Capitalism relies on a certain level of unemployment in the economy to keep wages low. If the economy is too strong for too long, wage demands from workers get too high, which causes inflation, which is good for people who borrow money, but bad for people who lend it. So it helps for the economy to occasionally go into recession, to drive unemployment up and drive wages down. It also allows capitalists to do their favourite, favourite thing of all, which is to merge and acquire their rivals, thus reducing the level of competition, which in turn allows them to make more profit whilst paying lower wages and offering a poorer service to the poor saps they call customers.

Look what happened in the banking industry. In the last 10 years or so, we’ve seen several banks merge into one. First, Halifax merged with Bank of Scotland to form HBOS. Then HBOS was taken over by Lloyds. Meanwhile, The Royal Bank of Scotland has acquired NatWest and Coutts as well as Ulster Bank. The Spanish banking group Santander has acquired Abbey, the Alliance and Leicester (which itself was formed after a merger), Bradford and Bingley, and GE Capital. Thirteen banks have become three.

What happens to competition and consumer choice? So much for the banking industry. The British TV industry is one of the most creative and powerful in the world, but a lot of recent successes have come from small independents like Freemantle, Celador, and so on. The BBC has the luxury of the licence fee as well as a commercial division, BBC Worldwide. When they had audiences of up to 20 million, ITV were able to compete with the BBC, and outdo them most of the time. But they don’t like the multi-channel era, and they’re struggling to respond to the pull of new media. This radical merger would be a huge blow to the idea of competition in the UK market.

Probably the main reason for going ahead with it would be to upset Rupert Murdoch:

However, the new broadcaster would control well over 60% of the British TV advertising market, and the government would have to set aside competition law for the merger to take place. It would also infuriate commercial rivals, most notably BSkyB, in which Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation is the largest shareholder, which would face a powerful new competitor.

A variety of media stories, possibly related

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Triumph of the himbo

Triumph of the himbo


ITV chairman Michael Grade (who has had stints in charge of Channel 4 and the BBC before joining ITV) calls YouTube a “parasite” – what does he mean?

“The day that Google or Joost or any of these people start investing £1bn a year in UK content is the day I’ll start to be worried,” he said in a pre-recorded interview played at the IBC conference.
“They’re all parasites, they just live off our content is what they do. As long as we can create the content, the content is the keys to the castle for us going forward.”

It’s true. Content is King. And seeing others reap the benefits of your content while your own company is struggling, must make you see red, or even little red dots.

Meanwhile traditional media companies like ITV continue to feel the pinch as their business model makes less and less sense. In another of today’s stories, some film companies are launching a new format for DVDs that includes a file that can be copied onto a hard disk. This at least a step up from expecting you to pay twice (or more!) for the same content, which has been the business model for music companies moving from vinyl to CD and from CD to downloads.

In yet another content-protection move, The Times newspaper is moving to a subscription model for its archives.

The 200-year archive includes news stories from 1785 to 1985 including the Battle of Waterloo, the arrival of convicts at Botany Bay and the execution of Marie Antoinette, all in the original page layout.

The archive also includes the first ever Jeremy Clarkson column, from 1908, in which he complains that the Model T Ford is only available in black. “What this means is that if you want the Model T in Ferrari red, you’re going to have to get a paint brush. But that’s a minor quibble, because this car is simply astonishing. It’s got an incredible 20 horse power and can reach a top speed of over 40 miles per hour. And that makes it the fastest mass-production car – in the world.”*

Finally, one of my perennial favourite media news stories. Whenever a prominent news reader is passed over for a job, you can guarantee that he or she will step forward to complain about the avalanche of bimbo news presenters who “aren’t proper journalists.” Mark Austin is the latest.

“There are a number of pretty young women and handsome young men without a solid journalistic background reading the news nowadays.

“Naming no names, but particularly on the 24-hour news channels. I do believe, though, that they’ll get found out,” he said in an interview in this week’s edition of Radio Times.

It’s a story as old as the hills. I expect someone thought Robert Dougall was too pretty to read the news in 1951. And BBC 5Live’s Peter Allen was allegedly turned down for a job at Radio 4 because he didn’t go to university! (I expect he got “proper journalistic training” instead.)

In the 1987 film Broadcast News, William Hurt plays a newsreader who uses childhood memories (or something) to make himself cry when preparing to read a tragic news story.
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*This bit may not be true.