NEW YORK — While the distinction between entertainment and selling has often been fuzzy, TV producers are now imbuing all types of entertainment genres with shopping elements, blurring the lines even more.
At the same time, advertising is being served up under the guise of entertainment or information. And now, magazines and their editors are moving into the television shopping arena.
Aside from home shopping networks and infomercials, here are some examples of how selling will continue to permeate the airwaves.
MDR Transmedia Communications, a hybrid company that straddles entertainment and direct response marketing, is producing a program for syndication called “The Brand New You,” which will perform a makeover on a different woman on each episode. “The Brand New You” will sell the hair care and beauty products used to create the makeover.
Industry sources said there is an entertainment news show in development for one of the networks that will go behind-the-scenes on the sets of upcoming film and TV productions. Viewers will be able to buy merchandise relating to the films, such as caps, T-shirts and jackets.
Since the early days of television, talk shows have been used as a vehicle for celebrities to promote their latest film projects or books, but “Bargain Basement,” a Barbour Langley Programs production, modeled after a late-night talk show, goes a step further. It will offer products that guests pitch through an 800 number. If Roseanne Arnold, for example, visited the show with her apparel collection, viewers could order it on the spot.
David Goldsmith, a senior partner of MDR, said the company is also working on incorporating selling into a sitcom and miniseries.
“We’re looking at all the program formats,” Goldsmith said. “Every program form is fair game.”
But the new programs will have to tread lightly on the selling. Experience has shown that shopping programs don’t attract large audiences on broadcast TV.
“You want to maintain the entertainment element sufficiently so you don’t risk the ratings,” said Mark Reily, a principal of MacDonald, Grippo, Reily, an entertainment consulting firm. “If the ratings go down, it doesn’t matter if the revenue stream is good, because it doesn’t give stations a lead-in to the next show.”
If selling is creeping into entertainment, so is advertising. In some cases, the entertainment vehicle is becoming the sales pitch.
Some trace the rise of “advertainment” to the impact of viewers “zapping” traditional 30-second and 60-second commercials with their remote controls. As a result, advertisers have been forced to look elsewhere for promotional opportunities.
Once again, advertisers are sponsoring or producing TV shows, much as they did in the early days of television. Today, however, the message is part of the entertainment.
Take “Treasure Island: The Adventure Begins,” a TV movie that aired on NBC. The story of a boy’s search for a buried treasure was played out against the backdrop of Steve Wynn’s new Treasure Island resort in Las Vegas, which took on a starring role in the movie.
Heavenly Road Productions, a subsidiary of DeFalco West Advertising, is producing a syndicated one-hour show, described as a “Northern Exposure” set in Hawaii. Commercial breaks will be used for a contest where viewers can win different trips. An 800 number will provide more information on the vacation spots.
On the interactive horizon, advertising may not be perceived as advertising at all. The nature of interactive television — which delivers what the consumer wants when he or she wants it — will tailor advertising to viewers’ interests.
Virginia Smith, program development manager of interactive services for AT&T, gave the example of a sporting goods store sponsoring a 20-minute show on how to improve tennis skills. At the end, a tennis outfit would be offered for sale. Smith said the program would be available to viewers who expressed an interest in it.
“Some of the new interactive advertising will have a lot of elements that in a traditional TV world would be considered intrusive advertising,” Smith said. “But given that consumers can tell the system exactly what they want to see, they won’t see it as intrusive advertising; they’ll see it as getting what they asked for.”
Editorial disciplines are colliding with the shopping arena as well. Next month, Hearst Entertainment and Lifetime Television will begin airing a program based on Good Housekeeping magazine. The program will also sell products that have been approved by the Good Housekeeping Institute.
At Q2, magazine editors are being hired to provide background expertise and a modicum of soft sell. There will be seven editors for Q2’s seven categories, which include health and beauty, fitness and style. Q2 wants editors because they can convey a sense of authority.
In addition to the category editors, Q2 is hiring personal shoppers, who will deliver the hard sell.
Jeff Gaspin, senior vice president of programming for Q2, who worked for NBC News, said, “I found all of television is about selling in a way. My decision to come over to home shopping was almost a more honest approach to what this business is about. We’re being up front about selling.
“In order for viewers to be served best, they need information about the product and how it works within their lives,” Gaspin continued. “I’m trying to bring an editorial point of view to the products.
“We distinguish an editor from a personal shopper,” Gaspin said. “That, to some extent, will help draw the line between the soft sell and harder sell. Both areas will be about information. One is more contextual information and one is more product specific information.”