Channel Zero #6: They Came From The Deep™

by Rathe on Friday, 18 February 2011

I don’t watch an awful lot of television — and in saying this I have automatically pegged myself as an elitist who considers himself too good for TV. But you know what? I am.

No, really — I’m not trying to say I’m too busy to watch TV— I am terrible for procrastination. I’m not trying to imply people who watch television are wasting their time — if they’re enjoying themselves and not forcing it upon me, I have no problem.  The reason I say I’m too ‘good’ for TV is because I can rarely watch it without thinking “I can think of a book I’d rather be reading/game I’d rather be playing/kidney stone I’d rather be passing.” Maybe that’s some form of attention-span problem. Maybe that’s being petty. But it’s mainly because there’s nothing on I want to watch. That’s nothing new – at any given time, almost anyone can say that. The mere fact I know I can get instant gratification from other mediums — books, music, games, DVDs, whatever — renders TV useless. TV has to be ‘in the right place at the right time’ and offer you something you want to see then and there (of course, this is something services like Sky+ and TiVo have tried to build on by allowing you to schedule your TV) but at this point, why bother?

TV is fundamentally dead and has been for years. If we can pick-and-choose our own programmes at our own time, why bother with the HD 42” plasma in the living room? Why not just start selling HD 42”plasma computer monitors and let me watch everything I want through the internet with an increased rate of advertising? NetFlix is doing mighty well for films in America, and you’ve started with things like iPlayer (now archive every episode of, say, MasterChef and make me pay for the episodes I want to stream or download). Go on, I’ll wait.

All of them. No skimping. Even the earliest ones with Loyd Grossman. ESPECIALLY the ones with Loyd Grossman.

But no. TV — or at least its advertisers and interest groups that stand to profit from it— seem to think TV still has life in it, like paupers trying to squeeze the last drops of rotting milk from the dead cow’s diseased udders. From the 28th February, Ofcom will preface shows that feature product placement with a monochrome double-P logo. If you watch Hollywood-produced movies with any regularity, you’re almost guaranteed to have noticed its prominence. Before now, friends and I have turned watching US films into spectator sports; extended games of spot-the-branding. Sometimes it has even has a story, but we don’t pay much attention to that part.

Once examined in detail, some parts of the proposals seem strange —products are to be used as props “seamlessly” — so for example, a character in a drama may say, “Get me a drink,” and is given a Coca-Cola, or a Pepsi, or whatever brand has paid for it to be. The character cannot explicitly mention the trademarked name itself, as that infringes the terms. This could lead to a strange, slightly jarring disconnect — say a character orders a bottle of champagne in a restaurant and is presented with a bottle of Moët & Chandon— he didn’t ask for it. The waiter just knew. It’s like no longer being able to say “I’m going to Hoover™ the house” or “I’ll Pritt™ Stick that”. That, of course, is a very nit-picky scenario, but I’m still interested to see how this will play out. On the other hand, all notions of ‘seamlessly’ incorporating product placement tend to jump out the window when you have a whacking great ‘P’ logo up before, after, and during the ad breaks.

Despite being a very long time coming, it’s made for some hilarious commentary online. Media commentator Steve Hewlett has said, “"I'd be surprised if most people noticed. If they start noticing then something is going wrong”, which is brilliant because it brought to mind the fears of subliminal messaging in movies of the 50s, or better yet, Max Headroom’s “blipverts”. Other people seem worried that product placement will sully the ‘purity’ of the country’s television, or won’t let them take characters they liked in shows seriously anymore. Rubbish.

Speaking of Ofcom, I remember the ol' communications watchdog ITC. At least they tried to have a sense of humour.

First, that implies the country's television has depths it can yet plumb. Second, British television has always been full of product placement — go on, go watch Ready Steady Cook or whatever. Brand name goods everywhere. Even Top Gear, regardless of how enjoyable and silly it can be, is essentially an hour-long window-shop around a car showroom.  The only difference is that, until the 28th, no money exchanged hands, the products were featured for the sake of being on hand/appropriate. Is the fact that it is now a paid contract between the producers and companies really going to be such a dealbreaker for people? The Daily Mail (here we go) certainly seemed to think so a few weeks ago in their inimitable hyperbolic fashion, heralding the oncoming embedded advertising as the bell tolls for television itself, courtesy of American Idol’s infamous pixelated Coca-Cola cups (though if you’re seriously worried about the integrity and standards of shows on ITV2 slipping you might want to look into starting a Facebook petition on your Blackberry®, or being trampled to death by a herd of horses).  Anyway, it probably won’t affect me – I don’t really watch TV, me. I’m off to go play some Ghost Trick on my Nintendo™ DS Lite.  

One comment

well everything changes even how we watch our tv, now we can have live tv channels online so we can see tv channels from around the world, who knows maybe in some countries they don't do product placements

by A Pires on 10 September 2011 at 00:23. #

Leave your comment