Mad + Vine reaches syndication

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Old TV concepts may never die, but sometimes they come back to life with cutting-edge tactics such as integrated product placement.

"Real People" could be one example. Phil Gurin, president of Gurin Co., Los Angeles, is working on a pilot for a new version of the old "Real People" title for first-run syndication, and he's seriously considering the idea of including product placement. Other first-run producers are blending some advertiser products into the content of their syndicated shows. And some network fare with integrated product placements, such as NBC's "The Restaurant," have already gone through the syndication window.

Such is the nature of TV distribution: The non-traditional forms of advertising springing up all over broadcast and cable programming are bound to trigger an aftershock in syndication. Syndicators face the same kind of financial pressures as their colleagues at the broadcast and cable networks. Often, sponsorship and product placement deals are in the works nearby, as syndication and network TV units are siblings of the same media giant. So it's a natural extension of the product placement tactic to see it pop up in syndicated shows.

"It's not new, but there certainly will be more of it," Gavin Reardon, senior VP-distribution at GRB Entertainment, Sherman Oaks, Calif., says of integrated product placement in syndicated fare.

Syndication comes with its own set of issues and rewards for non-traditional advertisers. For example, with the "The Restaurant" having finished its freshman outing on NBC, the first season is now available in some 30 overseas markets, and the three companies that placed products on the show are getting the added exposure for no additional cost, says Robert Riesenberg, who helped set up the deals while at Interpublic Group of Cos.' Magna Global Entertainment. (He's now creating a branded entertainment unit within Omnicom Group.) American Express Co., Mitsubishi Motors North America and Coors Brewing Co.'s Coors Light inserted their names into "The Restaurant's" content.


From an advertiser standpoint, that kind of exposure is a bonus. "For the people who put up the money for `The Restaurant,' the odds were 8-to-1 that it would fail. If you're going to suffer the consequences of failure, you've got to get some of the rewards of success," says Irwin Gotlieb, CEO of WPP Group's GroupM.

And yet Mr. Gotlieb notes there are certain dangers for off-network content that lives on in syndication, let alone other distribution windows like home video. "There are all sorts of issues concerning trademarks and logos, and the damage of running aged materials over an extended period of time," he says.

Some advertisers with longstanding brand identities might consider the ripple effect over the years a plus, contends Mr. Reardon. He suggests that TV stations picking up the syndicated shows have an opportunity to sell the integrated advertisers 30-second spots to update or accentuate their connections to the shows.

Changing the embedded brand names or logos in repurposed TV content poses another potential hurdle. Guy McCarter, director-entertainment marketing at Omnicom's OMD Worldwide, notes that when products are in the hands of a character and moving around the screen, virtual replacements become more problematic. GroupM's Mr. Gotlieb says that if a product is truly integrated into a show, updating an old logo or branding with computer technology really isn't an option.

Some virtual brand-switching has already occurred. Joe Abruzzese, president-advertising sales, U.S., at Discovery Networks, reports that when TLC's "Trading Spaces" went from a Lowe's Cos. sponsorship to Home Depot last year, the Lowe's logo was replaced by the Home Depot logo when it appeared on-screen in older reruns. While "Trading Spaces" isn't a syndicated program, it shows just what options are possible if contracts allow.

It's not just the technology implications that have to be considered when what an actor is holding, for example, suddenly changes from a can of Coke to Pepsi. "If a commercial tie-up is approved [by an actor] and later a different commercial tie-up supplants the first one, the talent rep would say that's a whole new deal," says Ken Hertz, a senior partner in the Beverly Hills, Calif., law firm of Goldring Hertz & Lichtenstein, which represents such talent as Beyonce Knowles.

It's much easier to do deeper integration deals on reality shows that will probably never go to other distribution windows, OMD's Mr. McCarter says. "The Restaurant" aside, reality fare tends to be licensed out as format rights, so that producers create their own versions of the program rather than rerunning original shows.

That's not to say OMD isn't getting involved with integrated product deals on scripted fare more suitable to syndication. One example is Sci Fi Channel's "5 Days to Midnight," expected to debut in June with a dozen products integrated into the miniseries. Participating marketers include Nissan North America, McDonald's Corp., Visa USA, FedEx Corp. and Clorox Co. While Mr. McCarter says agreements with the advertisers take a possible syndication window into account, he refrains from giving details.

Starting from scratch by integrating products in the original, first-run syndicated fare can have its benefits for advertisers, in the view of Dan Casey, exec VP-sales and marketing at WorldLink, which provides ad services to TV channels and syndicators.

Producers of first-run programming "are a little more flexible about putting together an ad package that has some of the bells and whistles of product placement," he says. "If you're an established network, you don't have to bend as much."

It may seem like cable networks have been pretty flexible; it's hard to find one that hasn't engaged in some form of non-traditional advertising. But consider one of the shows that Mr. Casey has worked on-"The Other Half," which ran in syndication from 2000-03.

Produced by Dick Clark Productions and General Electric Co.'s NBC Enterprises, it featured four guys talking about women's issues and included segments featuring products and services from such advertisers as H&R Block, BriteSmile teeth-whitening products and Hyundai Motor America. In the lower half of the screen, "The Other Half" also ran a graphic that referred viewers to the advertisers' Web sites and 800-numbers.


Another of WorldLink's first-run series involved Ryland Homes as a sponsor, integrating product placement in a slightly different way.

"An independent producer [John Mansfield of Mansfield Television Distribution Co.] came to us with Ryland Homes," recalls Mr. Casey. "The idea was to highlight the fastest-growing cities in the country and why they were growing so fast."

Ryland had a traditional sponsorship in "America's Moving to ..." but Mr. Casey says when the series spotlighted markets where Ryland was active, the company VP overseeing the region was interviewed, and the production team also tried to shoot visuals with a Ryland construction project in the background.

Even in first-run, non-traditional advertising can be "tricky," Mr. Gurin notes as he ponders the potential for product placement in his revival of "Real People." Tribune Entertainment Co. will offer the show for fall 2005.

"When you're dealing market by market, you don't know what the local advertising will be" and how that might clash with advertiser products embedded in shows, says Mr. Gurin, who's also executive producer of both the prime-time and syndicated versions of "Weakest Link."

But possible problems with local advertisers can be curtailed. "If `Real People' has any product integrated in it at all," he says, "it will be across the whole series"-not in single episodes.

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