Reality Shows Line Up for Product Placement

CBS's new reality matchmaking show Cupid and The WB's new Pepsi Smash have joined the growing list of sponsored programs with on-air integration (otherwise known as product placement) opportunities. Both shows debuted last week.

For Cupid, a relationship show where viewers help a female lonely-heart select a beau, both AT&T and online dating service have signed on as sponsors with category exclusivity.

As part of AT&T's deal, two phone features have been embedded into the format, including an 800-telephone number that viewers can call to vote for Ms. Lonely Heart's would-be mate. Viewers also can vote via text message, an AT&T Wireless phone feature.

So-called on-air integration opportunities have drawn interest from advertisers as another way of boosting awareness of their products, especially in the face of continuing audience erosion and concern over such devices as the personal video recorder (PVRs), which enable viewers to avoid watching TV commercials altogether.

Still, product placement is not without controversy. There's an ongoing debate about how much integration is acceptable. "If you do too much of it you run the risk of cheapening a show and offending viewers," says one senior level executive at a network.

But Jo Ann Ross, president of CBS Sales says on-air integration is valuable if executed properly. Of the Cupid
deal, she said last week, "The nature and format of the show not only invites sponsor participation like this but really benefits from it."

The deal includes an online contest where Cupid
viewers compete for a "dream date" with one of the nine finalists who isn't selected as Mr. Right. The Web site will also sponsor an Internet poll that will be integrated into the show. "We think this strategy will deliver an incredibly engaging and convergent internet/television experience," says Tim Sullivan, president of

At The WB, Pepsi is taking a page from sports marketers with a deal that incorporates its brand name into the title of the show, Pepsi Smash. It's a live music show that will air Wednesday nights and possibly be repeated in the network's Sunday 5 p.m.-7 p.m. block.

Don't surprised to see cans of Pepsi being consumed during the series, although a WB spokesman couldn't confirm that would be the case. What he did confirm however, is that Pepsi will buy most by not all of the show's ad time.

Pepsi and The WB have another sponsorship deal cooking. On Sept. 14th, the network will debut Play for a Billion, a new game show from Michael Davies, of Who Wants to be a Millionaire
fame, that features Pepsi as the primary sponsor.

Millionaire, the game show that soared then fizzled on ABC several years ago, was one of the early adopters of product placement, featuring AT&T.

Fox's American Idol
and CBS's Survivor
remain the most successful shows to use product placements. But in recent editions of Survivor, the network has cut back on sponsorships (usually priced in the $12-$13 million range) to sell most of the inventory in the general ad sales market, both upfront and scatter.

On July 20, NBC's The Restaurant
debuted with product placements from American Express and Mitsubishi. And though some patrons might like a Bettinelli Merlot to go with their Chateaubriand, they'd better settle for Coors. The beer company is part of the Restaurant