Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Spin That Promotional

I was once watching late night TV and saw two men sitting at a table, the one on the left interviewing the other on the right. The man on the left had a nice shirt and tie, and suspenders. In the background, an outline of a world map was composed of many light blue lights against a dark backdrop. Sound familiar? It looked like Larry King Live.

In fact, I thought, "Okay, this interviewer must be a stand-in for Larry King. So who's being interviewed?" The setting and dress lended the authenticity of Larry King... but it wasn't Larry King. And so I listened to this dude being "interviewed" about an amazing memory system he had devised. They spent many minutes touting the usefulness of the system and they had done such a great job of it that near the end of the program, I wanted to buy their memory system. Until the words flashed on the screen "PAID ADVERTISEMENT". It had been a sham. All the legitimacy I'd lent it because it looked like Larry King had been completely false. The interviewer was not a fact-finding journalist, but a paid actor.

Some years later, I heard a telemarketer talk about this approach as "framing our product in an environment familiar to the viewer". As he said that, I smiled as I heard in my mind comedian Bill Hicks:

I suppose the telemarketers who made that Larry-King doppelgänger can live with themselves by "framing" truth so they can better sleep at night, but all I see is a deception, an un-truth, a lie. In common parlance, it's referred to as a bait-and-switch.

And one such deception is "framing" web-based entertainment as "promotional". If you call a show a "promotional", the logic must go, it suddenly becomes something used to sell a larger product, so the writers and actors and crew members get paid nothing. If you you point a camera at Matthew Fox and broadcast that recording on TV with commercials, or sell it on DVD, writers get paid money. But if you broadcast the same thing online—and show advertising(!!!)—writers get paid nothing because it's "promotional".

Yeah. Sure. Sounds totally fair to me.

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