The family in ABC’s comedy Black-ish, including Dre Johnson, right.Photograph: Patrick Wymore/ABC via Getty Images
Advertiser-funded programming is an important source of money for broadcasters, but could advertiser-funded dialogue be the next step? Last week saw a groundbreaking attempt to blend advertising and editorial in an episode of the hit US sitcom Black-ish, which involved consumer goods firm Procter & Gamble paying for a plotline.
In the episode, broadcast on ABC, characters discussed P&G’s award-winning ad campaign, “The Talk”, which features African American parents talking about racism to their children. The show’s storyline involved character Dre Johnson – the father of the family, who is himself black and an ad executive – developing an advertising campaign that focuses on P&G’s film.
While we are in a new golden age of television, it has been less memorable for advertisers, who have found the digital audiences provided by Google and Facebook more alluring. Global spending on ad slots will grow 1.1% this year to $188.7bn (£136bn), according to media buyer ZenithOptimedia, while digital spending is expected to rise more than 10% to $224.7bn.
This has forced broadcasters to find new ways of bringing in money and set up deals like the Black-ish episode with P&G.
The explosion of catch-up and on-demand services such as Netflix, the rise in the recording of shows and the skipping of ads, and a decline in viewing on traditional TV sets by younger viewers has led advertisers to look beyond the 30-second commercial break. P&G’s jump to a starring role in a show is nirvana for brands targeting the kind of viewers who are increasingly switched off by TV ads.
Advertisers are now frequently heavily involved in all aspects of a TV show, from providing funding and doing product-placement deals to having products digitally inserted into scenes using special effects.
Viewers of Channel 4’s hit celebrity winter sports show The Jump, Sheridan Smith’s turn in ITV drama Cilla, Channel 5’s The Yorkshire Vet, or Air Ambulance ER on Sky might be unaware that they made it to the small screen in part because of co-financing from an arm of WPP, the world’s biggest advertising group.
Advertisers looking for even more control are becoming involved in creating shows that will appeal to viewers and show off their brand. The deal for Channel 4’s Eat The Week with Iceland, which shows attempts by time-starved families to cook together, included the frozen-food chain having naming rights for the show. “Iceland was fully integrated,” says Liam Mullins, managing partner at media agency the7stars, which struck the deal. “We even chose the freezer.”