Hulu’s delicate dance with advertisers and consumers

Los Angeles Times
Yvonne Villarreal

Product integration, in which products are blended into scenes, is hardly a new phenomenon. But the practice is becoming more prevalent in an era of commercial-free streaming and ad-skipping DVRs — nearly half of all commercials on prime-time shows won’t actually be seen this year, according to the research firm Samba TV.

And networks increasingly are experimenting with reducing ad loads on some popular shows. NBC’s “Saturday Night Live,” for example, recently announced plans to reduce its ad load 30% next season while increasing the number of so-called branded sketches.

For Hulu, the trend represents a quandary: how to keep its relationship with advertisers who help finance much of its programming, without alienating viewers fed up with regular commercials.

Brian Bolain, general manager of Lexus product and consumer marketing, said the company has been more aggressive in seeking out opportunities for brand integration in the last couple of years as viewer habits have shifted.

“People are very smart about advertising,” he said. “I think it’s nice to see products being used in situation settings that feel a little more real than what you see in a stylized commercial. And they actually see it.”

It’s a tricky balancing act, however, for the show writers. The key is finding the right fit between show and product. The TV streets, after all, are littered with egregious and clunky product placement moments.

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