Inside Entertainment Issue 5

Television Copes with Covid

The Industry Adapts to Deliver Needed Entertainment

Table of Contents

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he new year is well underway and with it 2021 has brought the distribution of vaccines, scientific advances, and better information that has allowed a greater variety of activities to resume. Now past the one-year anniversary, the possibilities for what people can and will want to do has shifted after a year that has changed how we engage with the world around us. As we’ve adapted to meet the moment, entertainment has had to change as well. Practices and rules have had to shift dramatically to even get stories made. At the same time the industry has needed to alter the focus of productions to both incorporate the realities of today into shows and also offer new opportunities for escapism when we need to give our brains a vacation. Television’s mission to meet the moment is vital as the demand for content of all types has surged out of physical and emotional necessity. Subscriptions for streaming services and demand for streaming content has understandably skyrocketed during this time. 28% of consumers reported adding at least one new streaming service last year and 40% said they were watching more streaming content because of the

pandemic. This behavior will have lasting effects with 1 in 5 consumers already saying these habits will continue post pandemic. (Hub)

Understanding which types of productions have fared best during a tough and disruptive time on set and what content has found the best success on screen is vital for brands as they maximize their product placement opportunities in 2021.

Section 1

Productions Add Precautions to Keep Cameras Rolling

A September report in Variety outlined the many new steps television and film sets instituted across Hollywood to meet compliance and keep cameras rolling. Before cast and crew can even get on set there is extensive prep including a rigorous COVID testing schedule and a check-in process where temperatures are taken and a sanitation procedure is followed to ensure extra germs don’t make their way to the lot.

Once on site the number of people who can be in a given area has been significantly limited, meaning that departments who previously worked together in a hands-on and collaborative process now have to do their jobs from remote locations with only minimal staffing on set. Additionally, the PPE, air purifiers and sanitizer that are now staples of the day-to-day production have become a significant additional cost.

Producers estimate that all told these measures add as much as 10% to the total production budget, as the costs of both equipment and additional shooting days add up. An entirely new production role — the COVID Compliance Officer — has become one of the most powerful people in a production, superseding even the director as the ultimate decision maker in the filming process.

Brands with the ability to be somewhat flexible and make quick decisions in approving integrations stand to reap huge rewards during this time. With significant new production costs comes renewed interest in increasing the number and nature of integrations. Being prepared to get products through a heightened safety protocol and being able to make quick decisions during post-production is now vital to take advantage of opportunities.

There is a greater thirst for content, more than ever before. We need to create a safe way to do our business during COVID, in order to deliver the escalating amount of content that is in demand. Infrastructures have been built around the protocols to meet the safety requirements, which include additional hires and systems in place.”

— Jay Roewe
Senior Vice President, HBO

We’re hearing from producers that it’s more vital now than ever to find cost saving measures, or better yet, ways to bring in additional dollars through product placement that they can put towards production budgets. It’s not just about the additional costs of covering COVID measures on set. Additional funds also help them avoid diverting resources that lead to interruptions in the storytelling process. As a result, producers are increasingly realizing that premium integration opportunities, many of which already exist in their scripts, create additional dollars while helping them tell their most authentic story. These funds support everything from the music rights they really want, additional days of shooting now needed, to even allowing

directors and storytellers to afford certain talent that fell outside of their original budget. For some, this is the first time they are looking at product placement as a valuable resource, but for many, it’s become one of the first things they think about when developing a project.”

— Will Park, BEN VP, Brand Integration

Section 2

Daytime & Late Night Talk Gets Even More Personal

Due in equal parts to production challenges and needing to find the right tone to match the moment, talk shows find themselves getting far more personal despite the physical distance between the hosts and guests. At the start of the pandemic, Kelly Clarkson interviewed NBC News anchor Lester Holt and audiences were virtually invited to his home in Lower Manhattan. Holt played bass guitar and introduced Clarkson to his Australian Labradoodle, Lucy. Drew Barrymore promised she would put “all aspects of life” into her nationally syndicated show. Despite the remote format of interviews she

has delivered what she calls a “kookadoodle” spectacle that lets fans spend time with the real her. She also leaned into using technology during her Charlie’s Angels reunion episode that featured Cameron Diaz appearing via hologram.

These formats have connected successfully with audiences as daytime television has seen a prolific rise in viewership. Teens and professionals alike, finding themselves at home and in new circumstances, added more than 2 hours of daytime TV viewing to their schedules.

Daytime TV Viewing Has Soared For Kids and Professionals During the Pandemic

Extra Minutes of Weekday Daytime TV

Source: Nielsen

Professionals working remotely kept their televisions on throughout the day as TV breaks have become the new coffee breaks. A Nielsen study showed that TV has become a “work companion” for many who newly find themselves working at home. 65 percent of those surveyed said they watched shows or streamed video during breaks, and about half said they kept their screens on while actively working.

(Nielsen) Brands like Humana used the opportunity to connect with these audiences by having their Chief Medical Officer, William Shrank, MD interviewed in a pandemic-related segment on The Doctors. He used the time to give pragmatic advice on how viewers could continue obtaining regular medical care safely during the pandemic.

October 2020 Daytime TV Viewing

Total TV Usage Among Professionals

Source: Nielsen

Late Night also embraced the lessons of getting more personal and engaging an audience looking for an outlet. Jimmy Kimmel Live! partnered with Corona to promote the Cinco At Home Benefit Concert around Cinco De Mayo. Despite being apart, Jimmy checked in on Guillermo remotely the night before the holiday as he enjoyed a Corona and talked about the amazing work the brand was doing to support the restaurant community with a charitable donation tied to the number of viewers who would tune in to the concert on Twitter.

James Cordon made Jose Cuervo The Late Late Show’s official bar sponsor for a two-week run
in December. The integration amplified Cuervo’s Doppeldrinker campaign, where fans and consumers could win a chance to send their very own cardboard cutout of themselves to their family and friends to be together even though they couldn’t “really” be together over the holidays.

Section 3

Scripted Television Embraces the Moment

With more time spent at home, apart from friends and family, depicting life in both comedies and dramas has had to adapt with the times. Meanwhile, procedurals and programming focused on first responders have necessarily added a dangerous new wrinkle as a companion to all of their stories.

Grey’s Anatomy opened with a Station 19 cross- over episode set a few weeks into the onset of the outbreak in Washington. The Good Doctor also premiered with a two-part episode dedicated to COVID. Meanwhile New Amsterdam, inspired by the New York City hospital that was among the hardest hit by the pandemic’s early effects, is focusing throughout the season on a number of issues that were prevalent in 2020. Showrunner David Schulner told Us Weekly that the season explores topics surround- ing the virus, including racial inequality, anti-vaccine movements and violence against frontline workers.

While these series figured out how to incorporate the pandemic into their storylines, the miniseries Love in the Time of Corona was created specifically

to capture the spirit of finding connection during the era of social distancing. Filmed using remote technologies, even the production of the story was an example of dealing with the realities of the day.

Many brands capitalized on the opportunity to prove their heightened importance during this time by being front and center in the story. Home improvement products starred alongside Emilio Garcia-Sanchez in one of the storylines as his character is clearly engaging in home repair and remodeling while courting his neighbor from a safe distance. Meanwhile, while viewers were concerned about physical well-being and wary of transmitting the virus through shared surfaces, a premium water brand was able to highlight their key health selling points while a couple portrayed by Leslie Odom Jr. and Nicolette Robinson engaged in a conversation about whether they wanted to have another baby. The integration was a proven success as viewers increased purchase conversion of the water brand by 35% and the company’s target demo increased purchase conversion by 37%.


Section 4

Audience Measurement Changes with the Times

The entertainment landscape has changed. The shift in the way we watch movies, TV, and digital content means no ads and no interruptions. Branded Entertainment Network’s unparalleled expertise coupled with industry-leading data allow us to utilize custom-built, deep learning technologies to increase campaign performance and overall ROI. BEN puts your brand inside the most impactful content, so you can tell a bigger, more meaningful story and create an emotional connection that you can’t get with traditional marketing.

— Erin Schmidt
BEN Chief Product Placement Officer
Section 4

Audience Measurement Changes with the Times

Predicting the success of new television shows is one of the hardest jobs in entertainment. Three years ago BEN began training a deep learning algorithm to take on this task, with the goal of helping us identify which new shows will provide the best investment for our clients. The results have been outstanding. In 2018, BEN’s AI predicted 8 of the top 10 new shows in the fall broadcast television season. Ad Age, in comparison, only predicted 3 of 10 that year. One large benefit of AI is that it keeps learning. In 2019, our improved algorithm predicted all 10 of the top 10 new fall TV broadcast shows. Even with all of the tumultuousness of 2020, our AI still was reliable in picking the winners on broadcast TV as it predicted 8 of the top 10 new TV shows that aired during 2020. We’ve also taken steps to expand these predictions to streaming. Over a nine-month period during 2019, BEN’s AI predicted 4 of the top 5 shows across Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu.

When combined with the experience of BEN’s industry leading experts, our data-driven approach to choosing the right integration opportunities yields unparalleled results for brands.

ben digital issue 5
ben digital issue 5



COVID has led to huge increases in television viewership, with streaming and daytime television seeing particular strong gains


Safety procedures and rising production budgets are providing more product placement opportunities for brands in the know


Daytime and Late Night shows have built an even more personal connection with viewers who are looking for entertainment and engagement during the COVID era


Shifting storylines that center around our lives at home have created new opportunities for categories like home improvement, consumer packaged goods, and apps to showcase their essential role in our new reality


A data-driven marketing approach powered by AI finds the best product placement opportunities in uncertain times

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