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TV Networks look at more product placement to counteract ad skipping

networks integrate advertising into shows late night empire
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Television networks are having trouble keeping viewers’ eyes on commercials in the age of streaming TV and DVRs. So it’s no surprise that several of them are toying with some interesting ideas for new commercial formats for the fall lineup in an aim to keep your focus on the show, and away from the fast-forward button.

According to Variety, several popular networks and shows, including Empire, The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, and Best Show Over – a new variety show from Neil Patrick Harris – are batting ideas back and forth that would essentially integrate the ads right into the shows. This is nothing new – viewers often cringe when we see blatant product placements in TV shows, from Jack Bauer’s clearly-marked Spring phone used to communicate with Chloe on 24, to Seinfeld’s long line-up of Kellogg cereals in his kitchen. But these ideas would take the idea to a whole new level.

Related: Neil Patrick Harris’ jam-packed variety show Best Time Ever coming to NBC

With Best Show Ever, one idea is to award fans with something from every advertiser in a sort of game show format. Basically, watch the ads, perhaps perform some task or compete in some way, and you could win a gift bag. Reportedly, NBC is still tweaking the concept, but the show’s variety format will certainly lend itself perfectly to some interesting new twists to the traditional TV ad.

Fans of Empire, meanwhile, might be able to enjoy fewer commercials next season, but may have to contend with ads weaved into each episode that are up to 30 seconds long. There are no specifics as to how this might work, but considering Pepsi and Ford Motor’s Lincoln line have already signed on, we can make some pretty good guesses. Expect plenty of characters to be throwing back a Pepsi every now and then. Rum and Coke? No thanks. I’ll have mine with Pepsi. And Lincoln will undoubtedly be a vehicle of choice.

Stephen Colbert is on board with looking at creative, new advertising methods for his upcoming inaugural season as the new host of The Late Show, as wellReportedly, he may continue with the format fans have come to love on his previous show, The Colbert Report, where he openly pitches the products, but makes fun of them at the same time. In one of the most popular ones from The Report, Colbert mocked Kraft for the company’s list of rules for pitching Wheat Thins.

Other late night talk show hosts already include product pitches in between the show and commercials: Jimmy Kimmel, for example, often does short skits starring his sidekick Guillermo that promote products. It’s clearly an ad, but manages to keep the same general theme of the show.

Telemundo is also getting in on the action with its telenovelas, offering a second screen experience that allows viewers to watch more action from the show on their tablets and smartphones. As an example, if a character gets a text message, that message might appear on your smartphone, or if two characters leave the scene, you might still be able to follow them on your mobile device. If you’re really into your show, it’ll be tough to separate from it and do something else. Rather than surf an actor’s IMDB page or check your e-mail, you can remain engrossed in the program and, most importantly to sponsors, the ads, which will also follow and appear on your mobile device.

Naturally, it becomes much more difficult to skip past a commercial when it’s worked in as a part of the show – you don’t want to miss important dialogue. Let’s just hope they can be integrated in as subtle a way as possible so as not to take away from the actual storylines. That said, if fewer “commercials” are sold at higher prices, this could mean that the actual shows can run longer than usual – typically an hour drama really only runs about 40-45 minutes when you factor in standard commercial breaks.

It’s a give-and-take balance that has to be made when it comes to traditional broadcast networks. If the integration can be done tastefully, and doesn’t end up with Cookie Lyon walking around with a can of Pepsi in her hands everywhere she goes, or Colbert pushing energy drinks every 15 minutes, this could be just the strategy linear TV needs to keep viewers’ attention without interrupting their shows. Perhaps one day, it could even spell the end of the “commercial break.”

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Christine Persaud
Christine has decades of experience in trade and consumer journalism. While she started her career writing exclusively about…
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