Ads, Plugs Take Center Court

May 22, 2006  •  Post A Comment

Court TV, which broke ground last year by guaranteeing advertisers that viewers would pay attention to commercials, is set to add fuel to the debate over integrating products into television shows.

A new study that the cable network is sharing with clients suggests that product integration is most effective when coupled with traditional commercials. The results may encourage more advertisers to use the technique, which has spurred concern from TV writers who fear advertising clients will push for product placements that disrupt shows.

For Court TV, the research continues the network’s efforts to woo advertisers by sharing information on how its ad packages can be more effective than spots on more popular channels. The argument is especially important now, as chief procurement officers and marketing executives are seeking proof that the money they’re spending on ads ends up generating revenue.

“It’s not just about selling spots,” said Charlie Collier, executive VP and general manager for ad sales at Court TV. Advertisers “should have some level of comfort that what they’re doing works.”

Working advertisers’ products into scripts is gaining importance as networks seek ways to counter the commercial-skipping capabilities of digital video recorders such as the TiVo. PQ Media estimated the worth of product placements at $2.44 billion in 2005. About 29 percent of those placements were paid for, and that the number is expected to increase to 37 percent in 2009, PQ Media said.

The majority of product placements currently are done on a barter basis, with advertisers’ goods being used as props.

The product-integration push is generating some friction. At last week’s broadcast upfront presentations in New York, the Writers Guild of America East said its members want some say when product integration deals are being struck so they can maintain the integrity of their programs.

They fear viewers will tune out if subjected to awkward and annoying attempts at commercializing story lines. The Court TV study’s findings signal the writers may have a long-term issue on their hands.

The report by Court TV, which usually ranks about 20th among basic cable channels in total viewers, comes as other networks are studying how knitting commercial pitches into scripts affects viewer behavior. CBS, the most-watched broadcast network, has done research with some of its advertisers and is participating in a major study being conducted by Nielsen Media Research and Nielsen Entertainment, said David Poltrack, executive VP of research and planning for CBS.

Court TV, however, is the first to make public its research, which was conducted by TNS Market Intelligence. The report is part of the network’s upfront pitch, Mr. Collier said.

It’s a pitch that also has been affected by Time Warner’s purchase of Court TV. The network’s ad sales group is being integrated into Turner Broadcasting’s entertainment sales division. Joining Turner will create opportunities for cross-promotion, potentially boosting Court TV’s ratings and making now a good time to buy ads, Mr. Collier said.

For the upfront, it’s business as usual, he said.

Other networks, such as MyNetworkTV, are including product-placement opportunities in their sales presentations. Broadcasters and cable channels are talking to clients about creative ways to get their message across, including sponsorship deals for programs sent over the Web and wireless devices.

At last year’s upfront advertising market Court TV entered new territory by guaranteeing the Starcom media agency that viewers would not only see ads on the network but pay attention to them.

Court TV undertook its experiment with cleaning-product manufacturer Reckitt Benckiser, which made a scatter ad buy with the network, Mr. Collier said. The network produced three versions of a scene on its “Parco P.I.” show, each featuring different product integrations with varying degrees of intrusiveness, said Debbie Reichig, the network’s senior VP of ad sales strategy.

Measuring Recall

In one version, a bottle of Reckitt’s new product, Easy-Off BAM, was shown in the kitchen while investigators on the program interviewed a family. In the second version, one of the investigators tells the family that they can use BAM to clean up a mess made by fingerprinting dust. In the third, the investigators talked about the product and a member of the family used BAM to clean up.

The three versions of the show, none of which aired, were shown to more than 3,000 people gathered in research centers in malls in Orlando, Fla., and Las Vegas. The viewers were shown the program both with a traditional commercial for the product and without one.

In the shows without a BAM commercial, the product was recalled by 10 percent of viewers when it was visible on the table, by 54 percent when it was mentioned and 56 percent when it was used.

Recall increased when a commercial aired. BAM commercials alone generated 62 percent recall. With the visual product placement, recall rose to 68 percent; with a mention, it rose to 86 percent; and when the product was used, recall was 84 percent.

The percentage of viewers who said they were extremely or very interested in using BAM also rose when commercials were added. Without commercials, 2 percent of those who saw the visual product placement were interested in using the product. It rose to 13 percent when the product was mentioned and 9 percent when the product was used.

After seeing the commercial alone, 20 percent said they were extremely or very interested in using BAM. That number hit 23 percent with the visual product placement, 33 percent with the product mention and 24 percent when BAM was used.

Ms. Reichig said the results should be helpful to clients considering integrating products into shows.

“Clients say, ‘I don’t know how to do it,’ or ‘Should I run a 30-second spot in the same show?'” Ms. Reichig said. “When it’s done organically, there’s very high recall.”

She said viewers “understand the economics of product placement and they’re OK with it.” Viewers also assume that when they see products on shows, it’s deliberate and paid for, she said.

“What we found out was basically what we intuitively thought was going to happen, but it’s always good to have research and data behind them, said Deborah Sherry, Reckitt Benckiser’s senior manager of advertising services in North America. “When you’re talking to upper management and you’re telling them why something is good and why you should be doing it a certain way, it’s always great to have the research and data to back you up.”