It's still early---since CBS' deal with Comcast Corp's on-demand service, NBC's deal with DirecTV's new DVR and ABC's deal with Apple's iTunes Music Store has yet to start up.
But looking at some early returns: NBC has a strong lead.
Why? If you believe your local branded entertainment marketers, they would say, you'll be seeing advertising anyway, woven into TV shows. With that knowledge we turn to data recently released by Nielsen Media Research's Place Views product placement tracking service.
The winner so far: NBC, which had almost double the product placements on its prime-time shows last season than any other broadcast network. CBS and Fox came in second and third place respectively. Then UPN, the WB, and finally, ABC. At the top, NBC tallied 21,286 placements. ABC at the bottom brought in 8,272.
No explanation came with NBC's little victory (NBC also leads in the category this year, so far). But we imagine much of the placements came from shows such as "The Apprentice" and "The Apprentice: Martha Stewart," where major brands, like Burger King, Sony Pictures, and Procter & Gamble's Crest toothpaste buy into high-priced multi-million dollar "tasks" the potential apprentices must complete. Unfortunately, most paid activity for placement is lower--though perhaps not all that low. But analysts guess the majority of placements are still placed free of charge. Just as unfortunately, Nielsen can't tell us which of the 21,286 mentions on NBC came with a price tag.
Perhaps that is better left unsaid.
This is just the data that would send TV unions into orbit. The Writers Guild of America, for example, is angry that its writers don't get a piece of this new revenue stream. A recently released WGA position paper says, according to Daily Variety, that: "Guild members are now the conduits--we are being told to write the lines that sell this merchandise and to deftly disguise the sale as story."
But it's not just writers who are bickering. All parties are at loggerheads. Networks have been complaining about producers' share of product placement activities, while producers have been complaining about third-party product placement agencies, which have been complaining about media agencies. ABC has been looking to cut down on the confusion--and, as a result, it's no coincidence ABC is in last place in product placements. ABC made it known that product placements need to come through its advertising sales department--and with some significant, million-dollar media buys attached to product placement deals.
One wonders, though, if ABC was indeed compensated for all 8,272 placements that were made last year. Perhaps its executives don't really care as yet--nor do CBS and Fox as they vie for the top adult 18-49 viewer ratings. NBC may be a future victor, with advertising dollars measured in "placements." But right now ad dollars are still measured in ratings.