UK culture minister says product placement “contaminates” TV programmes.
Andy Burnham, the culture secretary, has used his first big speech on broadcasting to voice his opposition to product placement. The minister in charge of what *you* get to watch also indicated he wanted to see self-regulation of violent, sexual and offensive content on the internet, somehow modeled on the 9pm television watershed.
Burnham is clearly living in lala-I’m-not-listening-land. Putting aside his ludicrous suggestions to monitor online content (good luck with that), his apparent dismissal of product placement is a Big Problem. Paid for product placement is increasingly looking like the only hope for beleaguered free-to-air UK TV channel ITV. TV ad revenues in recent years have fallen off a cliff and ITV had sought to make up the shortfall with money from gambling phone in competition lines. We all know how well that panned out.
Burnham asserts that product placement ‘contaminates’ programming. In the UK, many of our prejudices against product placement appear to have been formed from watching movies such as the Bond franchise, where placement is often clumsy and detrimental. This is strange, given that many homes have multichannel TV and are exposed to US programming – laden with placement – on both ITV and the myriad other channels. American Idol on ITV has to fuzz-out the Coke cups on the judges’ desk. But there is no such regulation of Horatio’s Hummer in CSI Miami, Dunkin’ Donuts in Will and Grace nor of the product references on reality shows such as Top Model. There’s simply too much *there*.
Moreover, US imports such as Seinfeld, CSI and Heroes are often held up as archetypes of fantastic TV. All are at least partially funded by product placement. Hell, they probably wouldn’t have been made had it not been for brands bunnying up the cash to be represented. Not that product placement is devoid of problems; script writers in the US continue to (rightly) complain that brands exert undue influence over the creative process. However, with an estimated $7bn to $10bn invested in product placement in the US every year, it’s increasingly hard to discount it as a revenue stream.
To be blunt, ITV and the UK advertising industry need product placement to happen. It’s their ‘get out of jail free’ card. With his ill-advised and ill-informed opinions on the subject, the culture minister may have just slammed the door shut.
The New York Times magazine recently ran a profile of Tyra Banks about which there has been much bitchery online. She’s an easy target: utterly lampoonable yet ruthlessly ambitious. We think the interview is a masterclass in how to build a media brand and in how to maintain control. Particularly fascinating are the insights into how Tyra and her formidable mother London plotted her rise. Any fame wannabes should pay particular attention to the following:
Around this time, in the mid-’90s, Banks started gaining weight. Her agency made a list titled, “Designers who will not book Tyra because of hips and breasts.” They had a meeting with London and told her to put her daughter on a diet. “My mother told me the whole thing as we were walking down the street in Milan,” Banks said. “She said, ‘They say you’re too curvy. Let’s go order pizza.’ We walked into a pizzeria, and we discussed a career change.” Her curves dictated a different sort of modeling. “Tyra was always smart,” Veronica Webb said. “Tyra didn’t like clothes, and why should she? She looked great in a bikini. And in a bra and panties. That’s where the real action is in the fashion business: if you have great cleavage, you can make a fortune. When Tyra started to get really curvy, she signed a contract with Victoria’s Secret. For a black girl, that was incredible.
Genius. Instead of bowing to the dictates of the fashion industry, Tyra and her mother dictated back. Rather than moulding her body to the industry, Tyra diversified. Did the gamble pay off? Tyra used the platform of her Victoria’s Secret contract to create her own celebrity brand. We also suspect she maintains a lucrative relationship with the lingerie company: note how many times she refers to the brand when reminiscing about her modelling days. From her two shows — Top Model and the eponymous chat show, Banks now makes an estimated $18 million a year, and her net worth is around $75 million. Both shows are constructed around her highly ‘Bankable’ (the name of Tyra’s production company) persona. She owns 25 percent of “Top Model” and last fall Bankable Productions signed a deal to develop projects for Warner Brothers television. She wins.
(Full disclosure: Top Model is probably my favourite reality tv show format of all time. Those unable to fathom its appeal should probably read this.)
Zeitgeisty as ever, CSI explains the lure of social media
We are BIG fans of CSI: its noirish plots, zeitgeist-grabbing storylines (remember the Furries episode?) and general ridiculousness. This season, it has got the geeks gossiping about the use of Twitter in a scene and the attendant neat explanation of what drives people to live their lives online:
“Some people just don’t value privacy.”
“They don’t expect privacy, they value openness.”
Nearly a quarter of owners think they are watching HDTV … but they’re not.
The Technology Liberation Front have just published an article that says apparently half of all High Definition Television (HDTV) owners don’t actually use the HD capabilities of their set, and nearly a quarter think they are watching high definition video when they actually haven’t set it up correctly. Bless.
Forrester Research have predicted that by the end of the year some 16 million U.S. households will have HDTV sets, but only seven million wll have HDTV reception. The Scientific Atlanta survey found that some 49 percent of households were not taking advantage of their HD equipment. About a quarter found that their HD set itself provided better reception, without taking the additional steps necessary to view HD. Eighteen percent said they didn’t even know needed additional equipment, such as a set-top box or antenna. A quarter admitted they thought they were watching HD video because, after all, the programs said at the beginning that they were broadcast in HDTV.
Could the Playstation Portable become the video equivalent of the iPod? Or just another online piracy tool?
Although the PSP is designed primarly to play games, it can also store digital photos, play MP3 files and play video. There are a number of portable video devices on the market already – pocket computers, mobile phones and media players. But none have had the crucial support of the film studios who are already producing films in formats suitable for the PSP. The PSP also has the added attraction of a widescreen format and a bright screen that makes it possible to watch outdoors.
It helps that Sony has its own film studio but Fox, Universal, Paramount and Buena Vista have also pledged to produce films for the device. Of the majors, only Warner and Dreamworks (rather critically) have yet to embrace the format.
Films for the PSP come on a new disc format, the Universal Media Disc (UMD). The disc can hold three times as much data as a CD – enough for a ‘DVD-quality’ movie. According to the BBC, more than three million UMD movie discs have already been sold in the US, with two films – Resident Evil 2: Apocalypse and House Of Flying Daggers – selling 100,000 copies each in the first month since launch.
But despite being a hit in the US, UMD is not faring so well in the classic early-adopter market of Japan. A recent survey of Japanese PSP users found that only 10% had used it to watch a UMD movie. This may be due to the explosion of file sharing culture where high broadband penetration and file sharing software such as BitTorrent is enabling users to download films and TV programmes off the Internet illegally. Moreover, most of this content can be easily converted to watch on the PSP with some pirates already providing ‘PSP friendly’ versions of films and shows. Ironic that a company such as Sony may be giving consumers the very tools that they need to undermine their business.