Ready for Digital Product Placement in Your Favorite Films & TV Shows?


Although music and video streaming services like Hulu, Netflix, Disney+, and more can be great for consuming huge amounts of content, you never own any of it, regardless of how long you subscribe.  At first this wasn’t much of a problem, but only because consumers had no idea how far the studios would go with those digital media rights. We’ve covered the cons of the arrangement plenty of times on Bleeding Fool already, from digital books and comics being altered or clawed back from users’ apps to classic films coming with new woke warnings and even being edited without acknowledgement. Even the Muppet Show can’t escape it.


But now, according to this article from the BBC, comes a whole new reason to build your physical media library back up; digital product placement.


Product placement in films is almost as old as the movie industry itself. The first example of the phenomenon is said to be the 1919 Buster Keaton comedy The Garage, which featured the logos of petrol firms and motor oil companies.

Fast-forward to 2019, and the total global product placement industry, across films, TV shows and music videos, was said to be worth $20.6bn (£15bn) that year, according to a report by data analysis firm PQ Media. It is highly lucrative to get a show’s leading actor to wear a certain item of clothing, or drink a particular coffee, or drive a specific car.

But while previously the product had to actually, physically be there when the shots were filmed, the advertising industry is now turning to technology that can seamlessly insert computer-generated images.


Spot the difference between these two stills from a Chinese TV show. In the above there is no advert in the top left corner


But in this version of the scene, an advert from Coca-Cola has been added digitally


Any item can be digitally added to almost any movie or TV show. For example, advertisers could put new labels on the champagne bottles in Rick’s Cafe in Casablanca, add different background neon advertising signs to Blade Runner, or get Charlie Chaplin to promote a fizzy drink.


And then a few weeks later, or even years, the added products can be easily switched to different brands.


One of the firms that has developed the ability to do this is UK advertising business Mirriad. Its technology is now being used by a Chinese video streaming website, and the makers of hit US TV show Modern Family have also tried it out.

Mirriad’s chief executive Stephan Beringer expects such digital product placement to become widespread. His firm came up with the process after previously making movie special effects.

“We started out working in movies,” he says. “Our chief scientist Philip McLauchlan, with his team, came up with the technology that won an Academy Award for the film Black Swan.

“The technology can ‘read’ an image, it understands the depth, the motion, the fabric, anything. So you can introduce new images that basically the human eye does not realise has been done after the fact, after the production.”


Are you kidding me? They’re pitching this as if consumers would want this.


There is no better time than right now to begin to replenish your physical media library.


But you might say “I don’t want to hook up blu-ray players on every TV in the house!” or “how can I watch my favorite shows and films on my smart device?” Easy. It’s time to invest in converting your physical library to digital backups and an old computer into a home media server. Just make sure you have several TB of hard drive space to store your content. 


How to Cut the Streaming Cord

Applications like Plex offer an alternative for those who like to maintain local collections of music, photos, and videos. The media management software helps you construct an always-accessible media server and offers playback apps on many platforms. Plex has expanded its library of free streaming content, too, with preprogrammed channels, movies, shows, and podcasts that you don’t even need to store on your server. Although those with home theater PC (HTPC) setups need to look elsewhere (such as to the more customizable Kodi), Plex earns kudos for its easy setup, reliable performance, and excellent organizational tools.



To get started, Plex users set up a server on a device using the Plex Media Server application and add local media libraries to it. Plex is best for people with large repositories of local media files but not necessarily a lot of space on the devices to which they’ll be streaming the content. It’s also for people who oppose popular video and music streaming services. Although we don’t condone the practice, content pirates may be drawn to Plex as well.


Once the media server is configured, Plex users can stream and download that server content on other devices as well as share their libraries with other people via the new cross-platform Plex app. For users who want to try hosting files or who don’t need high-level features, Plex offers a free account. With this tier, you get all the basic media organization and streaming capabilities, the ability to cast to other devices, and support for tons of media formats, including 4K. 



PLEX Isn’t the Only Option

Kodi is a similar app. Plex’s previous generation Home Theater app was based on an XBMC (a precursor to Kodi) release. However, Plex and Kodi do not share any code and as such there are some notable differences. To begin with, Plex is not fully open source. Developers can contribute or review much of Plex’s code, but some parts are not publicly available. That’s probably fine if you don’t plan to dive into customizations at the code level.


Still, some users may prefer the truly open-source Kodi, which implements no such restrictions. Another platform is Emby, and it is likely the most comparable. You can download a dedicated Emby app on the majority of devices that Plex supports. Depending on the platform you intend to stream content on, OSMC and Open Media Server are options as well, especially for DIY platforms like the Raspberry Pi (RPi). Of course, most of these alternatives are not as popular or established as Plex or Kodi.


Whichever media server you use, you’re going to want to know how to rip that library of DVDs and BluRays, so here’s some instructions on doing that too.

Now don’t get me wrong, streaming services can be great, especially for checking out shows you haven’t seen before, and it’s often more convenient than physical media and the content doesn’t take up space. If you want to have control of the movies you love and have them available whenever you want, 4K, Blu-ray, and DVDs are still the way to go. Even if studios are giving up on physical media, that doesn’t mean you have to as well.



The Decision is Yours

It might be easy to dismiss physical media as some sort of outmoded form of data transmission, a fad that has outlived its days and has been supplanted by more modern forms of viewership, I would argue that it is instead a necessary hallmark of both media and artistic appreciation. If consumers allow large companies to replace them as the primary decision makers as to when, how, and at what cost they can access art that matters to them, they will have given up that right not only for themselves, but for those that feel differently as well as those yet to come. Even if the continued existence of physical media plays little to no part in your life, and if all the points put forward in this article falls on deaf ears, at least realize that there are a great many people for whom these issues matter greatly.


I am not against change. As long as the terms are made clear, and people are aware of both what they are paying for and what they are giving up, I am all for anyone interacting with media in any form they see fit. 


But as it was intended to be.

The late Steve McQueen, who gave a memorable performance in the movie The Great Escape, has gone on to advertise a great many things posthumously, since his death in 1980. This image is how it SHOULD be viewed.

Jamison Ashley

Comic geek, movie nerd, father, and husband - but not necessarily in that order. Current captain of this ship o' fools who is rapidly training everyone's computers and snarkphone spell-checkers to misspell 'supposebly.'