Is Television Over?
Slate.com published an article yesterday reviewing two books about the changing landscape of television advertising, describing the splintering television audience and the problem it poses for advertising and television production. With the classically alarmist Slate title “Is Television Over?,” the author Seth Stevenson points out that without the revenue from advertisements, studios cannot afford to produce high quality shows with large talented casts, good production values, and a decent script. The splintering cable networks mean a smaller concentration of eyeballs on any one show, which means less ad revenue, which means less incoming money, which means more shows like Dating in the Dark and fewer shows like Kings.
What Stevenson’s article doesn’t mention is the new frontier of television advertising, in-program product placement. By any number of accounts, the relationship between NBC’s Chuck and the in-show advertising from Subway helped save Chuck from cancellation this spring. 30 Rock endlessly mocks the need to creatively incorporate sponsorship, but of course the mockery is always also just a funny way to creatively incorporate sponsorship. (Just how many McFlurries did Alec Baldwin and Salma Hayek have to eat last season?)
I’ve written about this before in relation to Eureka and Degree for Men Deodorant, and this newer system of advertising is so pervasive that it’s hard to think about monetizing television without considering the ubiquity of product placement. In Eureka‘s most recent episode, Deputy Lupo shows off her new car to Sheriff Carter, and Fargo’s car drives up to congratulate her:
Deputy Lupo: 265 horsepower, track-tuned suspension and all-wheel drive. Totally high performance but completely under my control.
Fargo: Hot wheels, Jo.
Deputy Lupo: Thanks, 6 weeks on the wait list!
Fargo: Small price to pay for awesomeness!
Fargo’s car: Congratulations on your new vehicle, Deputy Lupo. The Subaru Impresa WRX is an excellent choice.
Of course that kind of absurd product placement causes eye rolling, and it does create a distinction between the kind of show that can easily point to a Subway sandwich (like Chuck) and a show that could never plausibly incorporate a Subaru (like Deadwood). I love Deadwood, and hope there are always people trying to make shows of that calibre, but for shows that aren’t on premium subscription networks like HBO, there are ways to think outside the 30 second ad format. It’s not a solution for everything. But am I resigned to roll my eyes as Big Mike takes a bite out of Chicken Teriyaki sub if it means I get another season of Chuck? Sure. Is television over? No, it’s just occasionally more stupid.