The six o’clock news is pretty much the only television program other than sports that I view while it’s being broadcast. I do this in spite of the fact that:
- As my daughter Casey hastens to point out, there is no news on the six o’clock news that hasn’t been on the Internet for hours.
- All the local news teams manage to come up with “BREAKING NEWS” to begin each day’s telecast in the hope that you’ll watch because you think that there’s been another terrorist attack, or that a politician has tweeted an inappropriate photo, or that Lindsay Lohan has been arrested again, but it always turns out to be some house that’s on fire or someone shot in the Bronx and, really, don’t those things happen too frequently (at least in New York), to qualify for news coverage at all much less “breaking news” coverage complete with helicopters?
- Old-timey anchormen like News 4’s Chuck Scarborough in New York look embarrassingly uncomfortable standing in front a huge TV monitor instead of sitting at a desk, although thankfully they don’t make him use a touch screen as they do with the younger, “Live at Five” anchors. (Chuck, I guess, is Comatose at Six.)
- At least three of the “stories” that will be covered revolve around humorous videos the TV station found on YouTube.
- The weather person will spend three minutes clicking through the meteorological version of a PowerPoint presentation before actually delivering the 7-day forecast, at least three days of which will be inaccurate, although you never know which three days.
- The sports reporter will tell me the Mets lost.
But I watch anyway, just as I still read a real newspaper in the morning, because I am old. Besides, I play with my dog Toby while I watch the news, although I think he’d prefer if we watched ancient episodes of The King of Queens on TBS.
In any case, this post isn’t about the local news. It’s about something I saw the other day while I was watching the local news. It was a promo for the NBC show Revolution, and it ended with this phrase: “Watch it live.”
Now, I know that some sitcoms like 30 Rock would occasionally broadcast a live episode, but I doubted that an action series like Revolution, which is about people living without electricity and takes place mostly outdoors, would do such a thing, because you never know when a bee will fly into someone’s mouth, causing everyone to try to improvise around the actor who’s gagging. That sort of thing can ruin a live performance.
Then I realized that, by “watch it live,” they meant watch it while it was airing, as opposed to using a DVR or viewing it “on demand.” They were saying, in essence, “please watch this with the commercials because we’re asking you nicely.” That shows you how desperate TV networks are to get you to see their advertisers’ messages.
They’re trying everything these days, including banner ads that seem to be taking up more and more of the TV screen to the point where a dramatic fight scene may appear to be two heads moving spasmodically above a billboard for Real Housewives of Atlanta. Some of these banners now actually include motion and sometimes even sound so the effect is like trying to watch a show while people are in your living room marching back and forth in front of the TV screaming things at you.
If you’re watching a baseball game, every little thing from the starting line-up to the relief pitcher is sponsored by something. (“This call to the bullpen is brought to you by AT&T…”) And of course, most sporting events these days have embedded advertising: either the name of the event itself or the name of the venue, or both. (For instance, the Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl, which I swear is a real thing, takes place at Tropicana Field.)
Television series have taken product placement to ridiculous extremes. The Syfy series Warehouse 13 has an official car, Toyota, which is at least somewhat better than what they used to do, which is have a character eat Twizzlers in every episode. On police procedurals, you’ll hear dialogue like, “I better use my Samsung Galaxy phone to call this in.” On Big Bang Theory, they try to fake you out with commercials that use footage from the show, so you stop fast forwarding.
On The Voice, contestants are shown driving to the studio in their Kias and using the hands-free BlueTooth feature to get a pep talk from their coaches. (If it wasn’t enough that they show five or six close-ups of the Kia logo during this one-minute segment, Carson Daly’s voice-over will say something like “and while driving to the studio in her Kia, Joanie is thrilled to get a last minute call of encouragement over the standard BlueTooth entertainment system from her coach, Adam Levine.”) At right is a promo photo from a previous season, with four finalists posing in front of a Kia for no apparent reason. (Judging by their post-season career paths, the Kia was the big winner.)
It’s clear that this will be an ongoing battle between networks that want you to watch ads and technology that helps you avoid them. Ultimately, the only solution for the networks may be to take a page from the dawn of broadcasting,* and actually have the products’ names be part of the title of the show, like Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, The Colgate Comedy Hour, Phillip Morris Playhouse, The Kaiser Aluminum Hour and Rheingold Presents Howdy Doody’s Kiddie Bar and Grille.**
I’m thinking maybe Hawaiian Tropic Five-0, or Law & Order: GMC, or Best Buy’s Price is Right.
*Did you catch this clever product placement, brought to you by Dawn Mediterranean Lavender, with the grease fighting power of Dawn dish soap and the exotically inspired scents of the Mediterranean? Proctor & Gamble can feel free to send me money.
**I made up the last one.