This week, product placement becomes a reality for UK producers and audiences. After years of lobbying, (UK TV watchdog) Ofcom is to change the rules that have prevented producers and advertisers working together to put products into the story.

This is one of the most important changes in editorial trends of recent years. A decade ago, TV companies like Endemol ushered in new business models that became a central part of the storytelling. Phone voting began as an uncomfortable addendum to the factual entertainment format, but egging the audience into making decisions quickly became as essential to the experience as the ensemble choir or the 8 year-old acrobat. And not just because it made money, but because editorial democracy was a sign of the times.

(I’ve written about Simon Cowell’s business brains in previous posts.)

Now that Ofcom has opened the door I predict the follow course of events over the coming 24 months:

1. There will be some blunt, stupid, crass activations of product placement
2. The Daily Mail will complain, the broadcasters will apologise
3. The brands will ask for measurements to prove its effectiveness
4. Producers will experiment with placing product into new types of editorial
5. Within 2 years a new sub-genre will emerge

Editorial practitioners who cut their teeth on the uneasy contract between advertisers and broadcasting tend to feel the relationship is a dance with the devil. But consider Wiggin/EMR’s research in 2010 that demonstrated 48% of Facebook users have also ‘friended’ one or more brands, and that 29% of these people do so to provide support to the brand.

That means: of 23m active Facebook users in the UK, 3m identify so strongly with brands that they want to be friends.

Anyone fancy making a show about that?

At this point, when audience engagement has actually been improved by the placement of brands in the content, revenue considerations will sit side-by-side with editorial needs.

Morgan Holt is chairman of the BCMA, which is partnering with MIPTV and Ogilvy for the Branded Entertainment Summit, a series of panels and events around branded content. Highlights include a keynote from Ogilvy CEO Miles Young and the first ever Brand of the Year Award.

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