Telemundo Airs Drama Without Ads, But Product Placement

In a bold move to narrow the large revenue gap with Univision, competitor Telemundo will air a drama series with no commercials, just brand integration.

Airing on weeknights in late-fringe (7 p.m.-8 p.m.), "Idolos de Juventud" is more accurately a telenovela--the dramatic form of weeknight strip programming popular in the Hispanic community. Brand integration will come in each episode, but no ad breaks, when it debuts this summer.

The tactic intriguingly intersects with a slew of industry issues, such as commercial ratings, the value of product placement and DVRs. Without ads, Telemundo presumably won't have to worry about the tricky aspects of negotiating based on commercial ratings. The content would be "DVR-proof"--there would be no worries about viewers fast-forwarding through the ads.

The value of product placement is another issue, with the network gambling that advertisers will be willing to pay for the opportunity at a level that brings in more revenue than, say, 16 minutes of commercials.

The network said it wants to use one of the burgeoning forms of brand integration--where products become part of a show's story line, not just wallpaper. A Telemundo executive said in a statement that it works by "organically integrating products and making them a part of the lives of the characters on screen." That model, however, is one that upsets many in the creative community.

"We respond to the needs of our advertisers by developing solutions that can harness and influence Hispanic culture on their behalf with creative branded entertainment. We allow them to extend their brand presence in a more significant way," said Steve Mandala, senior vice president, sales at Telemundo.

English-language networks, particularly cable outlets like FX, have offered commercial-free episodes of dramas with single sponsors that also receive product integration, but only for series premieres.

The story of "Idolos de Juventud" involves a Mexican reality TV show looking for the next singing sensation. One of the winners is a music producer's wife, which leads to romantic and other conflicts.

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