TV’s growing peepee problem

2014-06-08 15:00

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South African TV has a product placement problem, and it’s killing the integrity of our shows and harming viewers, writes Thinus Ferreira

South African television is selling its soul to product placement and viewers are paying the price.

You know when you’re watching your favourite soapie and one of the actors takes a Coke out of the fridge, being careful to show the logo as he drinks it?

That’s product placement. It’s the in-show marketing of a specific product or service for which the show receives financial payment or sponsorship.

While it’s easy to spot that you’re watching a commercial or an infomercial, it’s much more difficult to know that you’re being advertised to inside a specific show.

It’s not illegal, but it’s not nice either. It’s damaging not just South Africa’s TV industry and its creativity, but it’s also doing a disservice to viewers who don’t always realise they’re seeing something, hearing something and being fed advice that’s actually a sponsorship or a paid-for, in-show advert.

It’s also placing question marks around, and pressure on, the creative control of a TV show.

Product placement has been used in TV for ages. It’s a way to pay the show’s bill and a solution to offset some of the overall production costs. The problem is that there’s little or no regulation for this runaway train in South Africa.

British television, for instance, allows basically no product placement for locally produced shows. When there is product placement, there are extremely strict rules. Along with the S, N, V and L warnings, the show has to display PP if has been paid to include a specific product or service.

Product placement has increased on South African television over the past four years – a result largely due to the financial problems at the SABC.

Our public broadcaster does not have enough money to keep publishing its annual Request for Proposals book, where it calls for proposals for new TV shows and then commissions them.

This has forced production companies to be more clever in how they get money to make a show, but in a sense it has also cost the viewer.

It’s become so bad that TV channels have basically sold half an hour of their primetime schedule – prized television real estate – to external companies and advertisers.

In effect, they’ve basically given away their editorial control for ready-made advertising stories disguised as legitimate shows.

For every appropriate Pick n Pay food pantry in Ultimate Braai Master on, there is an inappropriate soliloquy by Nico Panagio where he shamelessly espouses the virtues of Outsurance on Survivor SA: Champions (M-Net) to contestants before a challenge.

As if it’s not enough that challenges in this reality show already play out in the product placement colours of Outsurance and Outsurance ads are flighted in the breaks.

Viewers don’t like Gumtree in SABC3’s Isidingo and Standard Bank in SABC2’s Muvhango and Isidingo; they don’t deserve the totally oversubscribed barrage of product placement on SABC3’s morning show Expresso.

Those Samsung tablets used by the judges on M-Net and Mzansi Magic’s Idols?…?yep, you guessed it, product placement you’re not actually told about.

It’s time for South Africa’s TV industry to properly address local television’s growing peepee problem – not just for the sake of better local programming, but to rightly inform viewers about exactly what they’re being fed.

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