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Video technology has put TV syndicators on the brink of offering something new to advertisers: "virtual" product placements in sitcoms and the like. Soft-drink cans nowhere to be found in network airings of a hit show now may magically appear when viewers tune in the syndicated rerun. It seems simple enough, but this bit of "progress" brings enough problems that marketers and syndicators need to think twice.

Marketing is no stranger to product placements in certain kinds of TV shows and feature films. Syndicators, intrigued with the ability to sell virtual placements over and over (one virtual placement can be erased and another put in its stead for a later airing) are cognizant of some of the potential pitfalls. The president of Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution, one of the big syndicators considering its potential, observed that virtual placement "has to be done tastefully, so it's not offensive to the show or to the actors in the show."

That may be a tall order. Buyers of product placements are likely to seek prominent virtual positions for their clients' products, and actors and directors will realize they may be losing control of their performances and become unwitting or unwilling product endorsers. Even vintage TV classics still airing might not be immune from virtual placements here or there. Unchecked, syndicated series with virtual product placements could also add a new level of commercialism to TV fare and generate new forms of conflict among products promoted virtually in a show and those advertised in commercial breaks during the show.

Virtual technology has made ad placements possible in telecasts of sporting events, and it may yet prove useful in other TV programs. But the technical