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Paying for Entertainment

What do you do when it’s time for a TV commercial break?

If you’re like me, you check your e-mail, brush your teeth, grab a cookie, throw some laundry in the drier, pay some bills—anything but watch the darn thing. And of course, though I’m too technophobic to learn how to use it, TiVo (DVR) has rapidly changed the landscape by allowing people to painlessly zap commercials altogether. This week’s New York magazine article by Emily Nussbaum did a great job of breaking down the new ways in which advertisers are getting their products showcased on television, using as the main focus the NBC comedy 30 Rock. One of the more common strategies advertisers now use is to have its product as a central plot theme. 30 Rock—a TV show about putting on a TV show—lampoons this process, while 30 Rock itself is part of this trend. This phenomenon, known as brand integration, isn’t new (who can forget the Junior Mint or Pez episodes in Seinfeld?), but with technology having made it easier and easier to avoid commercials (or the PBS equivalent, “sponsor breaks”), it’s likely we’re going to see more and more of this kind of thing in the future. One of the scarier examples cited in the New York article was the recent Broadway revival of Sweet Charity, which obtained permission from Neil Simon to substitute a product name (no, I’m not going to name it here) in the line “I’ll have a double Scotch on the rocks.”

Still, entertainment and the arts are incredibly expensive to produce, whether it’s an orchestra concert, television show, opera, or Broadway show. Sponsors must be found, money must be secured to produce it. Where that money will come from—and how the organization or person donating the money will stipulate that they or their product be publicly displayed or thanked—is a cycle that’s in constant flux. In the current economic climate, it seems highly unlikely that nonprofit arts organizations will have much luck saying “No” when a sponsor or advertiser stipulates ever-increasing visibility for its company. Sigh.

POSTSCRIPT: Speaking of money matters (is there anything else to talk about these days?), I would just like to state for the record that I—like many other New Yorkers—was always cheap, long before it was fashionable. (See my previous SundayArts columns on the subject, both here and here.) Getting cheap tickets is kind of an obsession of mine, in fact, and I am glad to see that Ben Sisario has been given front arts-page placement in today’s (10/10) New York Times to the “art” of finding cut-rate tickets, in his “Bad Times, Good Prices” feature. I’ll continue to report back regularly at SundayArts on cheap worthwhile arts options in New York.

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SundayArts is made possible in part by First Republic Bank and by the Rubin Museum of Art. Funding for SundayArts is also made possible by Rosalind P. Walter, The Paul and Irma Milstein Foundation, The Philip & Janice Levin Foundation, Elise Jaffe and Jeffrey Brown, Jody and John Arnhold, and The Lemberg Foundation. This program is supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council. Additional funding provided by members of THIRTEEN.
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