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The Salt Lake Tribune Television Column: Television: We Interrupt This Ad to Bring You a Sitcom

June 27, 2008

By Vince Horiuchi, The Salt Lake Tribune

Jun. 27–Clenching a diet Coke and a rumpled bag of Cheetos, I flicked on my Samsung high-definition set to watch a Sony Blu-ray movie on my PlayStation 3.

Ugh. That’s what most television shows are like today — about 30 minutes of product placement wrapped inside 15 minutes of story. And there’s still 15 minutes of commercials to contend with. Are we watching a drama or just one long commercial?

Let’s look at “American Idol” as one gross example. Every fan knows you can text through AT&T’s wireless service or that the contestants produce those insipid Ford commercials every week. We certainly know that judges Simon, Paula and Randy like to drink only from red Coke cups.

If you’ve watched “Survivor,” you’ve seen starving contestants trudge through muddy obstacle courses just to get a bag of Doritos. Meanwhile, about the only lingerie any of the characters on “Gossip Girl” wear is from Victoria’s Secret.

Corporate America has taken over media companies and therefore is using our beloved entertainment as evil tools to tout its products. It must be stopped now!

A consortium of advocacy groups is trying to do something. This coalition, which includes some groups I agree with (like Children Now) and some I don’t (like the Parents Television Council), has banded together to urge the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to do something about the rising use of product placement in television.

Citing Nielsen reports, the group said in a letter to the FCC last week that product placement in prime-time shows rose 13 percent in 2007. Viewers of “American Idol” saw an average of 14 minutes of product placement per episode two seasons ago.

A 2007 survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation said 69 percent of parents were concerned their kids were seeing too many product placements. Kids are being brainwashed to fall in love with new cereals, children’s Web sites, toys and candy — just about everything they shouldn’t be obsessed with.

It’s a danger to kids because they are bombarded with advertising messages every time they turn on shows that parents think are safe for them to watch. Ultimately, these companies are building a generation of children dependent on consumer goods, which is what corporate America wants.

Not only that, but obvious product placement also is just plain bad for the show. Nothing hurts the credibility of a storyline more than when a character is munching on nothing but Nabisco cookies or drinking nothing but Budweiser drinks to the point where viewers notice. Have you noticed that in the movies, James Bond only likes to use Sony Ericsson phones or Sony laptops? (Sony owns the movie franchise.)

The consortium even cited cases where television shows like the now-defunct “7th Heaven” incorporated Oreo cookies into the storyline because Kraft paid for the privilege.

I’m not sure the government should be mandating what television creators should or should not be putting in shows in terms of product placement, but I know the networks have to cut back and figure out less intrusive ways to make money.

Otherwise, I’ll get sick and end up regurgitating all those Oreos. Vince Horiuchi can be reached at vince@sltrib.com or 801-257-8607.

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