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TV DVD: We Buy It, So Go Ahead and Sell to Us

6 Oct, 2005 By: Jessica Wolf

I was at a PriceWaterhouseCoopers presentation this week, and some of the speakers and data tossed around made me think about the future of the TV DVD genre.

One TV executive speaking on a mini-panel at the presentation talked about the danger of the digital video recorder that allows TV viewers to record shows, without commercials, store them and share them with friends. “And it could really cut in to your DVD sales,” he added.

It's not a connection he likely would have made five years ago. It's only been in the past couple of years that TV has had a successful video aftermarket.

In my mind, his worry about the commercial-cutting actually doesn't quite make sense.

Of course, everyone is worried about retaining the ad impressions for free network TV shows in a market that allows for a lot of skipping through a variety of different tools. But — and I may be wrong here — ad time for shows is bought with a mind to the network, broadcast and how many people will be watching that particular viewing night. I see the concern with people TiVoing and skipping through ads as the show is airing, but how does that relate to potential viewings weeks and months down the road? How can anyone promise an ad impression will last longer than the initial airing? I don't think networks are selling ads based on all the viewers that might watch the show after it airs, whether they see it through TV DVD, TiVo, sharing, whatever.

Obviously, one of the reasons people love TV DVD so much is the ability to avoid commercials. My brother-in-law refused to watch “Lost” during its network run, but was chomping at the bit to get it on DVD. He can't stand to watch anything with commercials anymore.

It's probably not farfetched to surmise that advertisers are interested in finding their way into TV's DVD aftermarket. However, I also believe that the consumer mindset is so enamored of their commercial-free viewing that any attempt to change that on DVD would be disastrous.

But don't think people are that opposed to “advertising” per se — we just don't want the commercials.

Something that speakers and presenters at last week's conference brought up, and that I agree with, is working advertising and brand messages into TV shows. It happens in movies all the time. To me, as long as it's done in a way that doesn't steal creativity, that makes sense in the context of the show, it's not annoying or appalling — it actually can lend authenticity to my viewing experience.

One of the PriceWaterhouse analysts noted that when you watch a TV show and see a fake-labeled soda can or bottle of dishwasher detergent, it takes you out of the moment a little bit, reminds you that you are watching made-up people and situations on the screen (though sometimes I think we TV addicts need to be reminded of that).

I thought about this the other night when I was watching a past episode of “Gilmore Girls” on DVD. Two characters were standing in a grocery store, products all around. I looked at the cracker boxes on the shelf behind them framed in the shot and I thought: “I wish I had some Cheese Nips.” Of course, the box on the screen had some fake name, but I automatically thought of Cheese Nips. So, if my mind is already going there, why not just sell the spot to Nabisco for a realCheese Nips box. It would not bother me at all.

I also had no problem with Ford's sponsoring and brand-placement on a past season of “24.” Those characters do a lot of driving, so why not in Ford Expeditions? The show is based in Los Angeles, where a lot of people do have SUVs and big cars, so it would be logical. And the beauty of this example is that Ford not only bought that first broadcast viewing impression, but all subsequent impressions with TV DVD viewings. And it solves that whole “pass around” issue. If a consumer shares his TV DVD set with a neighbor, those brand elements travel right along with it, unlike commercials.

If they can figure out a way to incorporate product placement that doesn't alienate the show's audience, they stand to make a lot of money — and we TV DVD lovers stand to keep our commercial-free, episode-on-demand programming we love so much.

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