Madison Avenue Warms To Silverman, Expect Greater Product Placement

Will new NBC Entertainment co-chief Ben Silverman continue to be a friend to advertisers?

Long known for his close association with the growing practice of brand integration and product placement for shows such as NBC's "The Office" and NBC reality shows "The Biggest Loser" and the short-lived summer show, "The Restaurant," analysts and net executives believe Silverman could further endear himself to the media and advertising community.

"There's probably no TV executive today who is better known on Madison Avenue than Ben Silverman," said NBCU president and CEO Jeff Zucker.

Silverman's first full trial before Madison Avenue isn't expected to come until June 2008, after he's in charge of a complete development process that begins in the next couple of months.

Silverman's interest in developing shows heavy on advertiser integration is one of the raison d'etres behind the formation of his Reveille production shop. Reveille shows have included noted integrated deals--Staples with "The Office;" fitness chain 24-Hour Fitness and apparel maker Starter with "The Biggest Loser." Fast-food chain Sonic was the presenting sponsor for "Nashville Star."

"Any way we can get our clients' products integrated into programs is a positive for us," says Lisa Herdman, vice president, associate director of network programming at agency RPA. "The challenge is how to do it in a new, fresh and 'never-been-done-before' execution. Of course, being able to measure that integration is going to become more of a necessity."

NBC looks to face a serious headwind in negotiations with buyers after another fourth-place finish in the key 18-to-49 demo. That's especially painful, given a second-half performance that outgoing NBC president of entertainment Kevin Reilly labeled "a big, fat disappointment."

NBC's 18-to-49 performance in regularly scheduled programming--the core of what's sold in the upfront--by one measure was down only 3% this year, compared to an 8% drop at ABC and CBS. (Fox was flat.)

Silverman has been one of the producers who ushered in the trend of reality programming, which seems to work with NBC's so-called 2.0 plan to focus on unscripted programs in the 8 p.m. hour to save money.

For next season, NBC's lone weeknight with scripted shows comes on Thursday at 8 with two comedies. ABC, in contrast, has scripted shows on four of five weeknights this fall.

Running unscripted shows, however, can give a programmer fewer opportunities to experiment.

"You can't be exclusive with reality at 8," Reilly reportedly said in October, after the controversial announcement. "You have to be in the scripted business." At the time, he also said any budget cuts in programming R&D and eventual on-air product wouldn't affect his goals or the network's success.

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