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.