WARNER BROS. TO TEST 'VIRTUAL' AD CONCEPT: TV GROUP WOULD BE FIRST BIG SYNDICATOR TO USE TECHNOLOGY

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Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution, syndicator of the popular "Friends" and "The Drew Carey Show," plans to test "virtual" product placement in some of its off-network fare later this year.

Warner Bros. would be the first major syndicator to use the controversial technology, where a marketer's product can be seamlessly inserted into live or taped video broadcasts.

LOOKS LIKE PART OF ORIGINAL SCENE

Developed by Princeton Video Image, Lawrenceville, N.J., the process makes it appear that the product is part of the original scene.

"We're discussing having [PVI] taking a couple of episodes of our shows and doing tests and then looking at it," said Dick Robertson, president of Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution. "It's not outside the realm of possibility that we'd have something on the air using this technology this fall."

Having a big syndicator such as Warner Bros. adopting the technology could mean a significant ad opportunity for marketers, and a new revenue opportunity for Warner Bros., which accounted for close to 20% of syndicated ad revenues last year.

A rate card has yet to be established -- "We're fiddling with some numbers now," Mr. Robertson said.

UPN used the PVI technology in a March 17 episode of "Seven Days." It inserted products for Coca-Cola Co., Evian, Kenneth Cole and Wells Fargo Bank after the episode was filmed.

The network said it's still deciding if it wants to use the technology on an ongoing basis.

'A BETTER WAY'

"Product placement is nothing new to television," Mr. Robertson said. "This is just a better way of doing it, so the product placement doesn't have to live in the show's negative forever. And it has to be done tastefully, so it's not offensive to the show or to the actors in the show."

In meetings held during the January convention of the National Association of Television Programming Executives, CBS Corp.'s Eyemark Media Sales pitched advertisers on using the process in syndicated episodes of "Caroline in the City," but Eyemark hasn't closed any deals.

PVI is still working on more sophisticated software.

"We're developing a way to have the actors actually handle the products that are

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