Product Pitches Growing on Nets

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In a throwback to old-style TV, the hosts of Court TV's "Saturday Night Solution" block aren't shy about stopping in the middle of the program to turn to the camera and hold up a box of the allergy medicine Alavert and products from other advertisers.

Over on Fox Sports Net, former baseball player John Kruk once devoured a plate of KFC chicken on camera, pleasing one of several Best Damn Sports Show Period advertisers that have their products prominently featured on the show.

"It got a little messy, and it dripped on his shirt," recalled Fox Sports Net executive vice president of programming and production George Greenberg. "We left it on his shirt for the rest of the show."

GETTING OVERT

With a mounting number of programming choices and advertiser unfriendly technology such as digital video recorders making it more difficult to keep viewers hooked, product placements are becoming more overt.

Networks are also beginning to generate a significant portion of their ad revenue from product-placement deals.

Fox Sports Net says 20% to 30% of its ad revenue is derived from product placements, while Game Show Network senior vice president of advertising sales Michael Sakin estimates that up to 15% of GSN's ad revenue comes from the tactic.

Among the challenges product placements pose to networks is formulating a value for the spots — network executives said there aren't rate cards for product placement deals. And measuring the success of product placements remains difficult, but Nielsen Media Research is on the case, with plans to begin measuring the effectiveness of the spots in February.

While Court TV is up front about plugging the sponsors of its "Saturday Night Solutions" block, the placements in other programs are subtle.

The Chase, a reality show that will premiere during the first quarter and track contestants across the globe, will feature contestants drinking Aquafina water.

Court TV executive vice president of ad sales Charlie Collier said all of the network's product placements are part of broader deals with advertisers. "It's a large commitment, but no dollars per se to come and put a water bottle on the set," Collier said of Aquafina's deal for The Chase.

Colby Burke, a senior account executive at Los Angeles-based ad agency Colby & Partners, which handles product placements for Suzuki, said each network has varying tastes on how overt the placements should be.

Burke has placed Suzuki vehicles in shows on American Movie Classics, Game Show Network and Sci Fi Channel, and is developing Suzuki product placements for TBS Superstation, Turner Network Television, USA Network and VH1.

Most programs on The Food Network are shot in the kitchen, but Suzuki found a way to pitch one of its trucks in a segment the network ran called "Food Tips for Road Trips," which featured a host showing viewers how to pack a car for a picnic. "It was food tips, but it was really just centered around the car," Burke said.

All of the product placements on Fox Sports Net's Best Damn Sports Show Period
are overt and have become an integral part of the show.

Anchors have shot the program outdoors on a deck built by Home Depot, gathered around a bar on the set to drink Mike's Hard Lemonade and cameras have followed the hosts and their guests pulling up to the studio in a Lincoln Aviator.

"Most of the advertisers that come to us want us to acknowledge their product somewhat, but not to hold up a banner and really go, 'Hey, this is the greatest thing in the world, we love it,' " Greenberg said.

GSN: THEY'RE KEY

Product placements are a key area of focus for GSN's ad-sales team, along with interactive television ads, Sakin said. Going forward, he said the two GSN shows which will feature the most product placements are GSN's World Series of Blackjack and National Lampoon's Greek Games, which will feature fraternities and sororities competing in various games.

Sakin said product placements in the blackjack tournament coverage could include waitresses delivering beverages, mobile phones contestants can use to call for help and sponsored segments within the show about travel, restaurant recommendations and casino tips.

GSN's Greek Games could include product placements for beverage or snack-food companies, apparel brands, sneakers, sunglasses and mobile phones, Sakin said.

Collier also said Court TV offers advertisers "in-program product sponsorships," in which the network shrinks the screen in the middle of a program to run a silent billboard from an advertiser. The network has also worked with General Motors Corp. to sponsor "docuspots," or short behind-the-scenes segments about Court TV's original movies.

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