SeamBI's Placement Platform Is Boon To National, Local Advertisers

A decade ago, TNT had designs on taking old episodes of "Law & Order" and using new technology to insert product placements. The prospect of retroactive brand integration in syndicated programming has been around for a while. But it doesn't seem to have taken hold, despite the seeming potential.

Local stations have been increasingly getting into the product placement arena with their live lifestyle programming -- a Dunkin' Donuts coffee cup on the desk, a chef using a particular pasta in a demonstration. Even if digital brand integration has been slow-moving nationally, why wouldn't stations jump at a chance to move ahead with it in the syndicated sitcoms they air?

A year ago, 18 stations gave it a go, including a CBS station in Philadelphia and Cox-owned outlet in San Francisco. The concept is intuitive, the logistics tough. But SeamBI, a company co-founded by a former Israeli intelligence officer, has a platform.

Ad sales at stations have improved over the past year with a resuscitation of the auto category. But if advertisers are demanding new ideas -- while trying to outsmart DVRs -- salespeople would seem to embrace SeamBI's virtual placement opportunity.

A McDonald's logo can be pasted on a bag in the background during "How I Met Your Mother," a Chrysler image on a calendar hanging behind Jason Lee's character in "My Name is Earl." Local brands can be inserted as well. So far, the opportunities have been in those two shows distributed by News Corp.'s Twentieth Television.

What's remarkable about SeamBI -- co-founded by CEO Roy Baharav in Israel and supported by $8 million in funding -- is the opportunity for localism. McDonald's could be in the show in Detroit, while KFC could occupy the same inventory during the Cleveland airing.

So far, the system has been mostly used for logo placements and not insertion of products themselves. Though not a direct revenue generator, stations also have used the platform to slide in promotions for their own programming, such as a "Catch Action News at 6" tag appearing on a computer screen.

Salespeople can sell the placement inventory alone. But more likely, offer a package that includes the brand exposure, while commercials run in adjacent breaks as reinforcement. "The commercial works significantly better," Baharav said.

While SeamBI has only worked with Twentieth Television, it plans to announce a deal with another syndicator soon.

Under the flow chart, a show's executive producer is approached about allowing the digital insertions. Indeed, producers concerned about polluting their art have a lot to agree to. (Dick Wolf of "Law & Order" may have blocked the TNT gambit.)

In each episode, there are opportunities for three, 10-second placements carved out. Once the syndicator has producer clearance, it moves ahead with SeamBI. Using a barter-type system, it keeps at least one placement opening for its national sales, and stations get the remainder.

SeamBI provides stations with a soup-to-nuts Web-based platform. Salespeople can review the real estate available for sale. Then when a deal is made, the creative is uploaded and goes through a swift approval process. Then, it's dropped in the episode.

Baharav said SeamBI aims to make selling product placement as easy as commercials. "We bring a platform that is going to be a standard in the market, so it can be sold just like a 30-second ad," he said, as SeamBI looked to make deals at the NATPE convention this week.

A station pays SeamBI a fee each time an insertion is sold, the amount determined partly by market size. An episode of a sitcom could run six times a year. A station could pop different advertisers in the same inventory in different runs of the episode. The general manager of Cox's Bay Area station, Sharon Fanto, told B&C the system "gives us something exclusive to offer in the marketplace." That's, of course, until a competitor signs on.

SeamBI also draws revenues from the syndicator, which benefits in two ways itself. Besides the national sales options, if stations find the program lucrative, a syndicator could get higher license fees.

Stations may have soured on aspects syndication, so SeamBI may have a ripe market. One that hasn't blossomed before.

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