Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Is There a Place for Product Placement on TV?

I watched The Biggest Loser last night (I know, I know...just consider it a guilty pleasure), and I was blown away by the number of product placements during the show.  I counted no less than six throughout the two-hour episode, three for Subway and three for Extra Sugar Free Gum. Add that to the ads directly preceding the commercial breaks (for trainer Bob Harper's protein powder, for The Biggest Loser book, etc.) and you've got a whole lot of ads in a short space of time.

I am not really sure what to think or how to feel about this. Is it old-fashioned to want my TV shows to be advertisement free? Is it totally unreasonable to expect not to be bombarded with ads while I am a captive viewer?  

The UK doesn't think so. The past three months have seen a trial ban of product placements on all UK television shows - a ban which the government hopes to extend until 2012. To culture secretary Andy Burnham, it's a question of ethics, trust, and quality. "My priority has always been to make sure we maintain levels of trust between audiences and broadcasters, and protect the standards of broadcasting for which Britain is known worldwide."

So maybe that's that's the catch. Perhaps American broadcasters (and, by proxy, Canadian television which broadcasts American shows) are not as concerned with the "standards of broadcasting" than their friends across the pond. This would explain the staggering 117,979 individual placements across America's top 11 TV channels in the first three months of 2008, according to to Nielsen Media Research.

Where this leaves me, the viewer, I am not totally sure. I do think it's probably true that viewers as a whole are savvier these days (a key argument used by those in the UK who want the ban reversed), but I don't think this is necessarily something to be proud of.  

What I do know is that last night's episode of The Biggest Loser left me with a bitter taste in my mouth. And I can say for a fact that I will purposely NOT chew Extra gum or eat Subway any time soon.