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If you thought that product placement was one of the fastest growing forms of marketing due to TV viewers TiVo'ing past all the commercials, think again. Now comes the commercial-free cable channel Showtime jumping into the lucrative game. And why not, when there's so much cash to be had. Then more cash will be had from all of the lesbian viewers being targeted.

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As reported in this week's Ad Age publication, Madison+Vine: (sub req'd)

While the premium cable TV network doesn't air commercials, its commercialism is coming out of the closet: Ilene Chaiken, the creator of "The L Word," has obtained something unprecedented among Hollywood's writers -- the power to control all brand integration for the show's final season, as well as for a spin-off series launching on the network next year.
But this isn't your ordinary product placement, like when we see the judges on American Idol sipping from their unsubtle Coca-Cola glasses. This is taking the marketing technique to a whole new nasty level, called product integration. According to the article:
Those with knowledge of the matter say that for $300,000, consumer brands can buy an "integration package" that will either incorporate a brand into existing "L Word" storylines or allow the brand to work with the show's writers to create customized storylines, participating in one episode or across several.
Of course, this isn't a totally new concept, and indeed, the travel company Orbitz was already integrated into several episodes last season. But that doesn't make it ok. Why would I want to watch TV with ads right in the middle of the script? Isn't that the whole point of paying for cable channels like Showtime, to avoid the bombardment of advertising on other channels?

But don't tell that to Gerry McHugh, senior research director at Community Marketing, a leading lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender consumer-research company. (I didn't know such a company existed either, but why not.) He says that "among lesbians, Showtime, with only 16 million subscribers, is the most-watched network after NBC, ABC and CBS." More to the point:

Successfully reaching that lesbian viewership means a brand is reaching a decidedly educated, affluent and brand-conscious audience.
And really, isn't that all that matters? Yes, TV has always existed as a vehicle to sell advertisements, as is the case with most media. But in the old days, shows only had to worry about not making sponsors angry or turning them off with offensive content. This is a far cry from handing entire scripts over to them saying, please, integrate your product into our hot lesbian love stories. Here, the marketer pays $300,000 in exchange for essentially becoming co-writer. What are the union rules on this anyway?

More importantly, where does all this end, if anywhere? Just last month, the New York Times reported that the anchors of a morning news program on a Fox affiliate station out of Las Vegas had cups of McDonald's ice coffee in front of them on the desk during the show. (The anchors "rarely" touched the cups so I guess that makes the deal ok.) Other news stations are considering similar arrangements. Seems that when just reporting the news isn't paying the bills, the solution is to turn some air time over the highest bidder.

Are there any boundaries left between TV content and advertising? The Federal Communications Commission seems to think there should be. The agency recently announced a proposed rulemaking for stepped-up regulations around both product placement and product integration. Of course, the advertisers want nothing to do with this idea, so stay tuned as the comments get filed.

Extended (Optional)

Originally posted to Michele Simon on Fri Aug 08, 2008 at 06:43 AM PDT.

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