After Hours

Sci-fi tech will kill TV science fiction

So today, Wired magazine tells us something most of us

already know, that DVRs are going to destroy the entire notion of

television commercials in the very near future (damn consumer

empowerment) and that advertisers have resorted to plot-driven product placement

as a new way to move merchandise. One ad exec interviewed went so far

as to say that in a few years' time the ratio of placement to

traditional adverts will skew 9:1. The commercial is dead.

And, to my mind, that means TV sci-fi is dead, too.

You see, everyone is making hay about how CSI, 24, and Las Vegas

have been using the latest electronics and computer gadgets as plot

devices, and how this helps the cause of science oriented

entertainment. That's crap. First off, the science in these shows is

questionable at best, but secondly, CSI and 24 are technothriller shows, not science fiction. And if you think that's hair-splitting, consider this: how many places in Battlestar Galactica could Sony or Coca-Cola promo a product?

You see where I'm going now? Truly speculative science fiction and

fantasy shows--to say nothing of period shows like Westerns or

historical dramas--aren't enough "like the now" to be compatible with

product placement, which means that these shows, which are already hard

enough to get on the air, will face an even greater uphill battle.

Sure, Deadwood will survive because it's on a premium channel (HBO), but don't look for a PG-13 counterpart on basic cable or broadcast TV.

When the next phase of product placement arrives--instant ordering,

where you can buy any product you see onscreen, from the stars'

wardrobe to the car they drive to trips to the locale they're shooting

in--things will get worse for new sci-fi ideas. Established franchises

like Star Wars and Star Trek will thrive on the tube

because, while you can't sell soap on those programs, every item

onscreen is a potential piece of collectible merchandise. I suspect

this will lead to painfully wild commercialization, with every season

of the next Trek show (and there will be one in a few years)

brandishing new crew uniforms (which you can collect) each week, new

upgraded phasers (which you can buy), new guest stars every week (with

available action figures) and a painful preoccupation of action over

plot (the better to sell video games).

Sadly, new shows without the huge franchises behind them will be a

hard sell. No product placement opportunities. No merchandise driver

opportunities. An educated audience expecting quality. Expensive

production requirements thanks to no "real world" sets or costumes, to

say nothing of special effects. Enjoy Battlestar Galactica

now, because as soon as DVR domination is complete, they'll have to

hurry up and reach Earth. Easier to shill for Pizza Hut that way.


Jay Garmon has a vast and terrifying knowledge of all things obscure, obtuse, and irrelevant. One day, he hopes to write science fiction, but for now he'll settle for something stranger -- amusing and abusing IT pros. Read his full profile. You can a...


I, too, use a DVR to skip commercials. It just occured to me you still watch them, but at a higher speed. Could the commercials be designed to account for this and still be effective? I like good commercials the first time, it is the repetition that is annoying.


"One ad exec interviewed went so far as to say that in a few years? time the ratio of placement to traditional adverts will skew 9:1. The commercial is dead." I don't think product placement alone will drive enough sales to pay for production. To me if they make the product placement too annoying, I write the name down and buy from competitors. That would especially include "Coca Cola" or the equivalent in the 25th century or the old west. That's just me. Commercials have been around for a long time. Possibly forever. Most people have been ignoring them for the same time. But even if you ignore the commercials a percentage of the viewers/listeners at least hear the brand name. Somehow industry has decided commercials work. How they measure the effectiveness, I don't know. If industry decides commercials don't work then producers will have to find a new way to get paid. Maybe "pay as you go TV"? :)


Annoying, insulting, stoopid ads will (provided I see them) drive me to a competitor, too.

NotSoChiGuy long as the premise involves ZOMBIES, I believe! LONG LIVE THE ZOMBIES!! ;)


Your argument sounds annoyingly accurate. After first admitting that I am one of those people who always skews "the bell curve", and pointing out that there will still be people (like me) who prefer to watch television live, I'll report that when watching a show on DVR, my "Skip" button only advances the recording 30 seconds. Thus I still see 2 or 3 seconds of each commercial. If I see something that looks interesting, I'll go back and watch that commercial. Of course, I watch commercials with the primary reason to see what the current trend in methods are being used (which makes me even more of an oddment).

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

I've been watching TV since the 1960s, and I've seen thousands more television ads in those Funny TV Commercial shows than at any other time on television. In the pre video recorder age a TV ad would come on and the room would empty as some people would race for the nearest toilet, with all but first and last place racing for the back toilet, and another few would race for the kitchen. Somewhere during any two consecutive ad breaks everyone would visit the toilet and the kitchen (food and drink essentials). I must have been watching television for several years before I actually saw the full length of an ad on the television - and then it was only because my leg was in plaster and I couldn't get up and move around. Recorders came in during the early 1970s - shows how quick these people in the marketing game are, doesn't it, they only just realise now what people with recorders do.


to piddle at chores. Get off my @ss and do something while the product purveyors indulge their schtick.


and do yard work or clean-up in three-minute sprints during the ads. It's amazing how much one can accomplish during a race or game with this approach. Incidentally, how did Jay's five-year-old post get past without comments when it originally appeared?


Ad's ruin the TV shows for me, I can't watch TV anymore. I download it or record it and watch it later, skipping the ad's. Usually after the first ad, I forget what I am watching, why I am sitting around, and go do something else.


Fortunately, product placement isn't everything and advertising will still take place in the breaks. What really worries me is that I record anything worth watching so I can fast forward through the breaks. They're bound to catch on sooner or later.......


Let's just hope that model continues standing in abeyance. Good find.

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