The evolving art of outwitting TiVo
by Nadira A. Hira, FORTUNE Magazine

(FORTUNE Magazine) - American TV viewers are no strangers to product placement. They've been seeing it in the past few years on everything from 24 to American Idol. The hottest trend: "brand integration," where products are stitched into shows' story lines.

On May 15 a company called NextMedium will take that tactic to a new level with the launch of Embed, an online marketplace for brands and the entertainment companies that want to integrate them. Among those already in talks: Ford (Research), Staples (Research), 20th Century Fox, and media buyer OMD.

Integration has become TV advertising's buzzword of the moment, as digital video recorders--TiVo (Research) and its ilk--have gained ground; they're now present in ten million U.S. viewing households, and Forrester Research projects they'll be in 39% of homes in four years. Not good for companies or ad agencies shelling out big bucks to buy 30-second spots.

Still, integration hasn't been a silver bullet. Deals are difficult to broker, and their impact is hard to measure. Which is where Embed comes in. Networks and other media outlets post their brand-integration availabilities--say, a car for a prime-time chase scene-- and buyers, searching by everything from show ratings to character descriptions, can make an offer.

Through a partnership with Nielsen Media Research, buyers and sellers can access a database--called Place*Views--to track the performance of the integrations, from how long they lasted to who actually saw them. Embed (which charges subscription and transaction fees) also uses the data to generate a score it calls a brand's "entertainment IQ." Every time an anxious CMO logs on, that number, along with a nifty market-share pie chart and a clip of his brand's most recent integration, greets him.

Hamet Watt, the 34-year-old CEO of NextMedium, hopes to harness what's long been an ad hoc marketplace. In a report last year PQ Media estimated that unpaid placements--wheedled for free by cozying up to stylists and set directors--accounted for more than two-thirds of the roughly $3.5 billion product-placement market in 2004. Top of page