Angry Robot

PVR Parasite


With the advent of the new PVR system, life is good. No more commercials. I start my show 15-20 minutes into the broadcast, time spent making a tea, putting my kids to bed or doing the dishes, sit down on the couch and enjoy a 1 hour show in 43 minutes. It’s like a little piece of digital heaven.

Unfortunately I’m PVRing myself right out of a job.

You see I’m a promo producer. I write, produce, and edit promos. If nobody watches my promos then why should the company I work for keep me on the staff? Going one step further, why should any advertiser pay good money to have their commercial air during a show if everyone is just going to fast forward through it? They shouldn’t, and eventually maybe they won’t. Without advertisers, TV stations don’t make money; and without money, they can’t buy the shows. Without shows, we won’t need our PVR. So there you go: the PVR could actually be the author of its own destruction, like a parasite that kills its host and then dies itself.

Now, it doesn’t have to go down like this. Advertisers are finding more creative ways to reach their market. In the last couple of years, product placement is at an all time high. Product placement is when an advertiser pays to have their product featured in a film or television. Sometimes it’s done so well you don’t really notice it consciously; other times it’s so blatant it actually disrupts the flow of the show. That’s called bad product placement.

Here are a few examples: in an episode of Smallville, the show about Clark Kent’s wonder years, Clark’s friend Cloe actually says to her friend “here, take my Yaris”. Now we’re not talking about a Porsche or a Beemer, we’re talking about a Yaris. What she should have said was “take my car,” but Toyota probably paid a lot of money for her to actually say the word Yaris. In real life, her friend may have responded with “I wouldn’t be caught dead in that thing”. On another episode, Clark reaches into his locker for his deodorant and we are treated to a very long close-up shot of Old Spice deodorant. Then he runs on to the football field and there is a massive Old Spice banner the length of the field. Obvious – and quite painful to watch.

A few years back I saw a webisode of 24 during its off-season. I was excited to see it – until I realized it was a not-so-cleverly-disguised car commercial. The Chinese are holding Jack Bauer prisoner, but in a daring nighttime rescue an elite force is sent in to save him. They run off into the woods and pull a tarp off the getaway car. It’s a brand new, extremely shiny SILVER truck. Who washes and buffs their car for a stealth mission? We are then treated to a long car chase in which the car company logo appears numerous times. This thing can go off road, on road, through water; wow, I wish I had that truck. What was I talking about? Right.

I don’t mind subtle product placement. It can even add to the reality of a show. I hate it when someone orders a beer or a soda without saying what brand.

You may have noticed that people on TV are always using Apple laptops. That’s fine, except when you see them in banks. I’ll tell you right now, no bank in the world uses a MacBook Pro to do their bookkeeping. 30 Rock recently did some very clever product placement by working the product placement theme in to the show. It was very funny – and no doubt lucrative as well.

So there you have it. The world of film and television is changing very quickly. Advertisers are looking for new ways to get their product to the masses. Some of them work well and some don’t. I love my PVR, too bad it’s going to put me out of a job, but until then I’ll put on my tourniquet and inject as much HD PVR goodness into myself as I can take.


D: Rock. I find myself in a very similar position, as a fellow promo producer. I’m even considering canceling my cable and going all over-the-air (did you know you can pick up something like 20 HD channels over the air in Toronto?). Then I was like, my channel needs cable fees and viewers, I’m just endangering myself here.

I’d like to bring up a related idea: that the brands themselves are a form of parasite, attaching themselves to content and infecting the viewer. In the days of contentional broadcast, the relationship was symbiotic; but in the era of pay downloads and cable subscription fees, to say nothing of BitTorrent, as viewers we need these ads less.

I’m of course not a huge lover of TV commercials, and even less of product placement. Just think how it would affect content if it was the only financing model. Good luck finding money for your historical drama! That said, I don’t want to see TV production dry up in favour of endless reruns, so the question of how we finance quality TV is still an open one. I have some theories, and I may post some of them in the near future.