In the picture
Nov 1st 2007
From The Economist print edition
Lifting restrictions on product placement will boost Europe's TV industry
THE endeavour is worthy of Soviet-era censors. In Paris, 60 full-time officials of France's audiovisual authority, the CSA, scrutinise more than 50,000 hours of television programming a year to detect, among other things, product-placement advertising, which is illegal in France. Broadcasters that insert products into programmes in exchange for money from manufacturers face hefty fines. Transgressions are rare: five years ago the CSA fined a broadcaster €150,000 ($141,000) for promoting Club Med holiday resorts in “Loft Story”, a reality show.
Strict limits on television product-placement are the norm across the European Union. In 2006 Europe's broadcasters earned just $31m from product placement, according to PQ Media, a research firm. In contrast, American broadcasters raked in $1.5 billion. And American television shows, product placements and all, are legal in Europe. The extra advertising cash has given America's television industry a huge competitive edge.
That is about to change. Last month the EU granted final approval to the Audiovisual Media Services Directive, which removes many restrictions on television product-placement. Member states will have two years to adopt the new rules, which they may modify first. But Martin Selmayr, a spokesman for Viviane Reding, the EU's commissioner responsible for media, says the law is “a major boost” for European television. PQ Media estimates that in 2010, the first year the legislation will be in force across the entire EU, television product-placement revenues will reach €130m, growing to €195m in 2011.
Those numbers may be conservative. Embedding ads within programmes is becoming increasingly attractive as commercial-skipping technologies such as TiVo become more popular. And the real value of product placement to broadcasters is higher than cash tallies suggest. Barter deals, in which companies provide programme-makers with free props, such as cars to blow up, are legal in many European countries. As restrictions are lifted, advertisers are expected to switch towards cash deals, which generally secure better placements. (The value hierarchy, in ascending order, is this: a product is visible; an actor touches it; an actor consumes and comments on it; the product helps a lead actor perform a heroic feat.)
A “clutter” limit will also help European programme-makers. Growth will slow in America as more programmes there hit a product-placement ceiling and start to annoy viewers, says Michael Belch, a product-placement expert at San Diego State University. (Last year “American Idol”, a talent-contest show, sported 4,086 placements.) Europe, by contrast, is virgin territory. That makes the product placements that do occur, often through loopholes or by stealth, especially valuable.
Agencies crafty enough to skirt the regulations make very good money, says Anders Granath, the boss of Propaganda GEM, a placement company based in Geneva. Tricks include “colour-coding” sets and actors' outfits in the hues of company logos, and tweaking dialogue to include words, phrases and themes that evoke well-known advertising campaigns. Propaganda GEM also performs stealth placements via props emblazoned with typefaces used in corporate logos.
Another way around restrictions involves promoting a product category (and not a specific brand) dominated by one company. This method has a drawback, known as “spillover”, because it lifts sales for competitors, too. But its popularity suggests that there is pent-up demand for direct product-placement.
Product placement in films is, for the most part, legal throughout Europe. But television offers three advantages. First, films often flop. A television programme's viewership, by contrast, fluctuates much less, so advertisers know what they are paying for. Second, the suggestive power of placements is especially effective at prompting urge-satisfying behaviour such as munching on snacks or swigging beer conveniently located in the kitchen.
The third benefit is that television programmes generally make it to screens much faster than films do, so advertisers can better synchronise placements with campaigns in other media. This can involve weaving storylines around brands via last-minute plot changes—and soap operas lend themselves to that more than films do. “It's very easy to support products,” says Gayatri Gill, head screenwriter for “Kasturi”, a popular Indian soap opera which is shot in Mumbai. This helps to explain the galloping growth of product placement in countries with vibrant soap-opera industries, such as Brazil and Mexico, the two largest product-placement markets after America.
Consumer groups lobbied hard to stop a relaxation of the EU's rules. Children's shows and news broadcasts remain off limits, and placements of alcohol and cigarettes are still banned. But there is little chance the EU or its member states will backtrack. Product placement, officials say, will help Europe produce better programmes and protect local languages.
Besides, governments themselves may soon enter the game. Propaganda GEM is in talks with several European government agencies about using television to promote not products, but behaviour. Officials are recognising, says Mr Granath, that paying programme-makers to change the storylines of dramas, sitcoms and soap operas might be more effective than traditional government campaigns to encourage environmentally friendly living, safer sex or staying in school. If product placement sounds scary, policy placement sounds downright sinister.
n. - 移置, 取代, 轉移
Meaning #7: act of removing from office or employment
carrier displacement 載體置換[法]
位移error； zero displacement 零位移誤差
product displacement 產品置換（回收 recalls）