Returning to the Bad Old Days of Advertising Created Content: Time Warner’s Studio 2.0

The so-called tattered “wall” separating editorial content and advertising will soon be totally obliterated. So eager/desperate for ad dollars, a vast array of websites, TV networks, and others on the broadband highway are willing to do anything to please marketers. Financially powerful brands are using their clout—and online access–to create a web of channels and other content designed to promote products. It’s going to be an ad, ad, ad, ad world.

Take, for example, Time Warner’s new “digital ad content division,” which it named “Studio 2.0.” This unit will “integrate brands and develop programming specifically for ad sponsorship,” noted Ad Age. Time Warner and others want to give us a torrent of ad-created content designed to promote greater consumption of the products which pay them the most [think junk food, fast cars, and beer]. A model for such efforts, they proudly claim, is radio and early television. Radio broadcasting broke its promise to the public that there would be substantial commercial-free (known as sustaining) programming. Program schedules were created and packaged by ad agencies. TV networks also worked closely with Madison Ave. to help promote brands. For example, NBC’s evening TV news program was called “The Camel News Caravan,” named after its sponsor—Camel cigarettes. Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz could be seen smoking cigarettes on their popular “I Love Lucy” series. Philip Morris was the sponsor.

Here’s what a senior Warner TV exec. said about the mission of Studio 2.0. “We view this an a natural extension of what we do every day as content creators, and we’re adapting to the digital environment. Since advertisers were intimately involved in the early days of television, it makes sense for them to be involved in this arena, too.”

Yikes! I hope they add that quote in Time Warner’s annual corporate social responsibility report!

Here’s an excerpt from the Time Warner Studio 2.0 announcement: “What has become eminently clear is that our advertising partners in our traditional television businesses are anxious to work in collaboration with the creative community to develop original digital content,” said [Bruce] Rosenblum [president Warner Bros. TV Group]. “At our core, we are a content creation company and Studio 2.0 is a natural, yet extraordinarily exciting, extension of our television production businesses. We are confident that…Studio 2.0 will successfully provide advertisers with cutting edge tools that will integrate their brands with inventive digital content in fresh, impactful and meaningful ways. At the same time, Studio 2.0 will present our creative partners in our television production divisions with a vibrant platform to express their vision in expanding digital arenas…” The complete release is here.

The role that advertisers are playing in the creation of content (see Bud.TV, for example) and with media companies such as Time Warner, Viacom, and Fox is more than troubling. It will require more than disclosure, although such prominent notifications about the financial arrangements and placements will be necessary. Web 2.0 must become more than a series of virtual advertorials. We will be returning to this topic in the months to come.

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