PRETTY soon now we will be able to endure the longueurs of the TV soap operas and drama-docs by playing a new family game: spot the product placements. Advertisers who are finding that programmes are not attracing the audience numbers they have theoretically paid for, or that the audience dashes out to do other things when the commercials begin, are instead devising ways of ensuring that their products are in full view while the programmes themselves are on the air. Film and TV producers have long been able to rely on cars, airlines, clothes, furniture and household appliances being provided without charge in exchange for a few seconds of invaluable publicity on screen. The business is now getting more sophisticated with efforts to achieve product placement becoming more subtle. A scene in a pub naturally shows a beer pump with the brewer's or the brand's name; on the wall there is a poster for a new film or a West End show. These are now paid for at surprisingly high rates: it is estimated, for instance, that a sponsored beer pump seen for 30 seconds once a week could be worth a million pounds a year. PP It must be getting to be big business because the European Commission in Brussels has begun to take an interest and wants to regulate product placement throughout the EU and Britain's communications watchdog Ofcom has begun a review of the practice. Strictly speaking product placement is illegal in Britain and many European countries but it is difficult, if not impossible, to remove it from shows imported from the United States. Some people argue that discreet product placement is preferable to long advertising breaks which disrupt the flow of a programme. There is some truth in that but obviously not all dramas, soaps or comedies lend themselves to product publicity. Advertisers will continue to seek new ways of reaching their audience on TV, especially as technology makes it possible to eliminate advertising breaks on recordings of films and programmes.


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