The WB Tries Product Placement

The WB's first product-placement deal, for the hit show Smallville, will take effect with episodes coming up in the second half of the current season. Bruce Rosenblum, executive vice president, television, for Warner Bros., disclosed the agreement during a panel session at NATPE Tuesday but declined to identify the advertiser or any other details by press time.

He described the deal as a "small experiment" that Warner Bros. is doing to test product-placement effectiveness. During the panel, Rosenblum said product-placement opportunities abound in reality shows like American Idol
and Survivor
but it's more of a challenge to integrate them "seamlessly" into a scripted comedy or drama in a way that doesn't distract or offend viewers.

Others on the panel agreed that, in the future, program distributors and advertisers will work much more collaboratively to market products in a viewing universe that is increasingly fragmented and where it's unclear how much attention viewers are paying to the traditional 30-second commercial.

Discovery Networks President Billy Campbell recalled meeting with a sponsor of Trading Spaces, the popular home-decorating show, who was a little miffed that one of the segments featured on-air participants using a competitor's products. Campbell said the sponsor indicated to him that "that would never happen again" and he agreed that it would not and should not. "Advertisers will have a role on what goes on the air," he said. "You need to have client partnerships, or you won't be in business."

Bill Cella, chairman of Magna Global, the buying arm of the Interpublic Group of ad agencies, said his unit got into program production to create unique opportunities that are basically tailor-made for specific clients. He cited made-for-TV movies that are produced by Magna Global Entertainment, are fully sponsored by Johnson & Johnson and air on the Turner networks.

At a separate panel on ratings research, moderator Cynthia Turner asked research executives whether everybody can really be No. 1 in a sweeps period or a season as it seems from the press releases that individual networks put out. The answer, they said, is yes, because, with all the data available today, it is easier to pinpoint strengths in specific age or income groups. So, while CBS might be No. 1 in households most nights, NBC can say the same about adults 18-49, and The WB can claim bragging rights to women 18-24 and so forth.

"There are many ways of looking at the audience," explained Jack Wakshlag, chief research officer, Turner Broadcasting System. Think of it more as putting a best face on things than as misrepresentation, he said. "We all focus on different demos that we target. It's not a household world anymore."

Indeed, Betsy Frank, executive vice president, research and planning, Viacom's MTV Networks, took the Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau to task for its seemingly endless stream of press releases touting claims that cable has surpassed broadcast in audience size. "They're pretty much meaningless," she said, also indicating that she feels the same way about Television Bureau of Advertising releases proclaiming the small number of cable networks that achieve a 1 rating or better during a sweeps. "You have to look at specific audiences" because that is what advertisers are buying.

Within those audiences, added Intermedia Advertising Group President Cheryl Idell, advertisers increasingly want more-detailed data about how engaged viewers are when they're watching TV.