“This Program Brought to You by…”

In the early days of radio, the corporate sponsor was closely affiliated with the program, such as the “General Motors Symphony”, “Ford Sunday Evening Hour”, “Chesterfield Hour”, and the “Heinz Hall of Fame”. Many early television programs followed the same model, which carries forward to today in the form of the “Hallmark Hall of Fame” (which happened to air a program last night). And now that content producers and broadcasters are searching for effective ways to fund programming on the Web, it may be that we’ll see a return to this sort of “branded” show.

NBC Universal issued a press release last week announcing a new production unit that will partner with ad agency Omnicom to “develop and produce brand-centric, quality digital content experiences” that will be distributed on NBC Universal’s various Web sites. Two projects are already underway, with “Gemini Division” slated to premiere this summer, and “Woke Up Dead”. The company plans to have client products “organically integrated” into the program content.

Paid product placement is nothing new, either in broadcast television or even the movies. It is a little unusual to have an ad agency so closely tied to the creative development part of the process. The fact remains that it’s an expensive proposition to produce quality programming, whether it is to be distributed over the broadcast networks, through cinemas, on DVDs, or over the Internet. If the Web can deliver enough viewers of the desired demographics to these new programs, sponsors may be willing to foot the bill.