Product Placement on the Fly

Frequent readers of the HDTV Almanac will know that one of my favorite hobbyhorses is the question of who will pay for episodic “television” and movie content going forward. Consumers now have more ways to avoid watching commercials, and there are limits to how much money you can get from them in monthly subscription fees. So where will the money come from?

One source that I have stressed as a likely candidate is product placement. This is nothing new; how many times have you noticed that illuminated Apple logo on the back of a notebook in a TV show or movie? That doesn’t happen by accident; that off-hand appearance was almost certainly bought and paid for. The same goes for other products, such as the cars used on screen. (Who could miss the tie-in with Ford in the orginial Hawaii Five-O when McGarrett got behind the wheel of his big, bad, black Lincoln Mercury?)

But product placement needs to be brought into the 21st Century. A company called SeamBI has created a technology that it calls “Dynamic Product Placement.” This process takes program content after it has been produced, and locates opportunities for product messages within the program. For example, the characters might be walking past a store window or driving past a billboard. The SeamBI technology can automatically replace portions of the scene so that the sponsor’s message appears on the billboard or within the store window. The power of the system is that different sponsor messages can appear in different airings of the content, so that it can be used with syndicated reruns to provide different product placement opportunities in different markets. And it’s all handled automatically, without manual editing of the source each time.

I think this is a good idea, as the placements blend into the existing scene. I think the real potential, however, comes with targeted advertising with streaming video. There is every reason to expect that eventually streaming sources like Netflix or Hulu will know a lot about my individual interests. I think it would be wonderful if the world inhabited by the characters on my favorite shows were to be filled with the brands and companies that I already favor, or might be interested in trying. And if this helped keep my subscription costs down in the process, so much the better. I know that all the information I share about myself with various services such as search engines has value, and I’d like to get some of that value back in the form of a lower cost for my video entertainment content.