The Critical 'I'

Read. React. Repeat.

Saturday, December 14, 2002

Rough times in the media industry are unsettling for a number of reasons. The immediate financial downturn is really just the tip of the iceberg; the real battle begins as soon as advertisers recognize the opportunity to sharpen their knives and start asking for concessions that will remain in place long after the current depression passes. Case in point: the trending toward "immersion", or the blending of advertising/product placement and content.

Fox Sports Net has been the loudest cheerleader of this pandering; their chief will tell anyone who listens how it's the greatest thing since sliced bread. Sony, by virtue of its myriad product channels, has also taken the plunge (albiet in a much clumsier way that opens the door for heavy criticism).

I think it's important to note that Sony has a particular knack for stepping into this kind of cow patty. Only a couple of years ago, they made a good bit of noise over the release of a bunch of media publications and programming under the umbrella term "Sony Style". They all contained pretty unabashed plugs for, naturally, Sony products, performing artists, media properties, etc. Sony Style didn't fly for long. You could even see some elements of this approach as far back as the Sony Beta VCR format; fast-forwarding to the present, the PlayStation console is being developed as another stepping-stone to consolidate content and format under one wing. It makes me wonder if this is some fundamental coporate-cultural thing within Sony Corp. It think this approach is more acceptable, and therefore successful, in Japan... And when Sony Style and Beta flopped, the company was reportedly stunned that what they considered standard operating procedure failed so miserably in the West. Something worth exploring.

In any case, this creeping morph of the advertiser-programmer can appear to be pretty sinister. While I have serious misgivings, I think there's an ebb and flow--at a certain point, people tend to tune product placement out, even beyond the saturation point that marketers like to think brand names become entrenched. In other words, they can try to push all the Poulin Weedeater Bowls and Hostess Pie-Eating Contests they want into the fabric of programs; getting people to actually absorb that media is different ball of wax.