Thursday, January 24

Checking Reality: Writers Strike

Yesterday, the Writers Guild of America (WGA) and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) began informal discussions to determine if there is a basis for both parties to return to formal negotiations. Restarting negotiations has not come soon enough.

For weeks now, the writers strike forced networks to scramble and offer an increasingly odd array of reality shows to the public. As long as people tune in, some of these quick creations might even replace a few favorites. For example, “American Gladiators” is surpassing the scripted show it replaced.

Advertisers are also discovering something about reality shows. Product placement is easier, at least according to yesterday’s story by The New York Times. And, reality shows seem well suited for “branded entertainment.”

“People are watching television; they're just not watching commercials,” said Lynda Resnick, chairwoman of Teleflora, the company that signed onto the NBC special “Teleflora Presents America’s Favorite Mom,” which is using the Internet to increase its presence. “That is the distinction.”

The concept of branded entertainment is not entirely new. Just one example that comes to mind is Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom. It is still going strong, though certainly not as top-of-mind as it was when I was growing up in a world where you had four choices as opposed to four million.

Revising branded entertainment and product placement options is one of several reasons the concept of old media seems dead to us. Not because we anticipate networks to die, but because they are acting more and more like new media.

As touched on in comments last week, some networks are intentionally pre-releasing episodes of some shows to help drive buzz with the hope that viral marketing occurs. Yet, buzz is not a measure nor do these prerelease promotions always consider writers and producers.

“Personally, I don't think running an entire episode as a "promotional" tool is smart business for the writers or the studios. Movie studios don't run their films free of charge for two and a half weeks, in the hopes that it will translate into paying customers later,” longtime Simpsons writer Mike Scully wrote on United Hollywood. “In my opinion, promotional use should have a limit of 3-5 minutes of program content, just enough to get the viewer to sample the show. However, if an entire episode is going to be made available, it should not contain any ads and should be limited to a window of no more than 48 hours. If they are being paid for promotional use, so should we.”

I tend to agree, and encourage people to read the full post. With the exception of a season one pilot, perhaps, I still don’t see how giving away a product, week after week, makes much sense, especially as people are become increasingly Internet savvy. At the very least, they are savvy enough to find downloadable content. BitTorrent, for example, continues to double its visitor volume every six months.

Then again, maybe all of this is a short-term problem as we seem to be trending to “On Demand” everything. Watch what you want, when you want it, and where you want it.

Long term, I can only imagine that this will result in some sort of tiered pricing structure that blends commercial free programming (rent or own) at a set price and commercial-laced programming for free (prerolls, pop ups, and bars) with product placement becoming as apparent as the parody we once laughed at while watching the movie Wayne’s World.

It won’t just change media, but the advertising industry as well. Maybe our culture too.



Sweet Tea on 1/24/08, 2:32 PM said...

Thanks Rich. I like product placement if it would take most of these commercials away. I keep seeing more commercials yet reports of how fewer people are watching them. For me, if I have to watch a show with commercials. I hit Mute & read until the show comes back.

Geoff_Livingston on 1/24/08, 4:08 PM said...

I wonder what kind of migration networks are seeing from broadcast to online, DVD, etc. I imagine this has to be hurting them, and at the same time accelerating adoption of other formats/entertainment sources.

Rich on 1/24/08, 5:32 PM said...

@Jane, It will be interesting. Sometimes I don't mind commercials, but I tend to make fun of them in a lighthearted way, especially when considering who their audience might be.

@Geoff, The acceleration has been amazing in some quarters. I spoke to a local affiliate here and they told me that their news program has more online subscribers than live ratings. If local news is seeing that kind of change, I can only imagine what entertainment options have done.

Traditional live television viewing seems to be changing into something you do when you have nothing to do. Most of the public is shifting to online viewing or DVR viewing when they want to.

What is starting to interest me is if this changes some social aspects of television viewing. I wonder.


Kim on 1/25/08, 7:40 AM said...

Speaking of product placement, it's sort of an ongoing joke in my house, but in 95 percent of the movies we see, there will be a Volvo in one or many scenes. Is product placement part of their brand strategy or is it just a strange coincidence?

Rich on 1/25/08, 8:13 AM said...


Your fascination with Volvo product placement continues to amaze me. :) They do it very well. I wonder if they purchase product placement or offer deep discounts for the production companies.

Also important to note: Lionsgate, an independent film and television studio, has joined David Letterman's production company and United Artists in cutting interim agreements with the Writers Guild of America. The move will put two cable television shows back into production in the midst of a 12-week-long writers strike, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Myles on 1/25/08, 5:29 PM said...

Rich, that's VERY important to note, since those two shows (Showtime's Weeds and AMC's Mad Men) are fantastic. The latter, especially, will be able to build on its momentum from its recent Golden Globes win and start airing its 2nd season this summer.

Rich on 1/25/08, 7:02 PM said...

Hey Myles,

Yes, I thought so too. I only saw the pilot of AMC's Mad Men though. Maybe I need to revisit it. Or, it could be, I haven't because some parts of it hit too close to home while other parts are too far away. ;)


Rich on 1/29/08, 9:56 AM said...

More Words:

"Despite the writers strike, primetime TV viewers are not deserting the medium in mass, but they are shifting their viewing patterns, according to a study Carat released Monday.

Some 72% of respondents report that they are watching the same amount of primetime TV than before the strike, while 25% of people are watching less and 3% are watching more." — MultiChannel News


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