Here's how one scenario might unfold: Remember "Sam Malone" on "Cheers" often reaching below the bar and grabbing a small bottle of seltzer? The fizzy drink was unbranded and had a blank label.
Fast-forward 15 years--"Cheers" went off the air in 1993--and with the right technology, a syndicator may be able to digitally insert a brand label on the bottle for, say, Canada Dry. In the process, it could garner some extra bucks.
Stretching further, the technology could allow for inserting brands in a show that were never there, also bringing in new revenue. Why not place a Canada Dry bottle on the bar 15 years hence, next to "Norm Peterson"? (Well, in Norm's case, a Miller Genuine Draft would be more believable.)
Many networks and marketers now feel that digital insertions can serve as a counterweight to the increasing DVR-enabled ad-skipping. But cutting-edge technology is not really needed there, since simple, traditional product placement can embed a product in a show where it might not be ignored by a viewer.
But the "Cheers" example still holds promise.
What's to say that NBC can't cut a deal with Pepsi, where a player on "Friday Night Lights" downs a bottle after a game? That would appear in the version that airs on NBC. But Pepsi's deal would only cover the broadcast rendition.
The network would keep the rights to make a second deal. So, if Pepsi opted out, a Dr. Pepper can could be placed in the version used in the DVD set, or even in a rerun months later.
The latest programmer to experiment with digital insertions is the Comcast cable group, which includes networks E!, Style, Versus, Golf Channel and G4. Comcast has a deal with British "embedded advertising specialist" MirriAd, where "product placement and promotional messages (will be) digitally inserted into existing video content as if they were included in the original production."
A prime example of where digital insertion could help a programmer double-dip, so to speak, came recently on ABC's "Desperate Housewives." On the Nov. 2 episode, character Bree Van de Kamp (Marcia Cross) shows another, Katherine Mayfair (Dana Delany), a video message on a flat-screen Sprint phone (one of the top product placements of the week, according to measurement firm iTVX).
It's one of Sprint's new iPhone look-alikes.
A decade from now, could ABC zap out the Sprint model and insert Apple's newest creation in Van de Kamp's hand? It would fit perfectly.
Kay Jewelers Necklace
My Name Is Earl
The Big Bang Theory