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Branded Content May Change the Future of TV

“This is the first time that programming with the distribution potential of NBC Universal will be centered from the start around advertisers.” – –Matt Spiegel, CEO of OMG Digital. The walls between advertising and programming are dissolving. “Branded Content” is the term used for programming that is really focused around a commercial brand. A few years ago, I directed a 15 minute dramatic short film for a beverage company in Japan. It was designed to play on the company’s website, and it eventually traveled around the country in film festivals. The interesting thing to me at the time was the company didn’t even show the product in the film – they simply wanted a heroic story associated with the brand.

Today, branded content ranges from programming featuring a specific product to shows where it’s hardly or never mentioned. But the connection to the product or lifestyle is critical. The most popular type of example is a recent episode of an episodic drama where the producers wrote an entire scene around a new razor blade. A recent movie was completely funded because they placed the entire story inside a big-box electronics store.

I have a friend in this business, and he attends film festivals offering producers significant funding for their projects if they’ll just integrate one or more of his client’s products into their story. In a world where 30 second spots seem limited, advertisers are looking for new ways to make an impression on viewers.

But there’s a risky balance involved. As Bob Bernstein, chief media officer at Draftfcb recently said, “It takes a very delicate balance. Producers and marketers need to make sure their products and services are part of the story and not a disruption to it.”

What do you think? Creative new options for producers? Or another annoying way to anger viewers?