Global's cyber-blimp: ad tech or hot air?

Global’s cyber-blimp: ad tech or hot air?

TORONTO (CP) — A cyber-blimp has been added to Global Television’s arsenal of onscreen elements and it’s generating some controversy. “We were just having some fun with it. It’s a new technology we were trying out,” says Ken Johnson, Global’s sales vice-president, about a realistic-looking but computer-generated Global blimp that appeared to hover over the crowd during a recent Sunday broadcast of a Jets-Broncos football game. But a Halifax newspaper columnist disagreed, accusing Global of using new technology in an effort to fool the TV public into thinking the broadcaster could afford to have a promotional blimp in the sky over the Denver stadium. “It was a lie,” wrote David Swick of the Daily News. “If viewers come to realize that TV can be faked, will they continue to believe the newscast?” Global promotions manager Dave Hamilton says they weren’t trying to fool anyone and thinks the writer is taking the issue to an extreme. “There is no way we would ever use this technology in a news environment.” Hamilton also denied any plans for computerized image manipulation within the body of a series episode. So NYPD Blue’s Det. Andy Sipowicz, for example, won’t soon be munching on a Tim Horton’s digital-doughnut. However, there are commercial possibilities here. Global is in negotiations with the National Football League and Princeton Video Imaging, the company that created the blimp effect, to sell ad space on the digital airship. During the upcoming Super Bowl, for instance, viewers might see a product logo appear in the sky after a field goal. All of this has already been done on U.S. and European TV and it has the blessing of the NFL, within limits. “They are setting the parameters where we can and cannot use it. What they’ve asked us to do is keep it either beside the goalpost or between the uprights,” says Johnson, who maintains none of this counts towards their federally-allotted 12 minutes-per-hour of advertising time because it’s just product placement. “It’s no different than a bottle of Coke sitting on a counter in a movie. No different than somebody picking up a Nike headband.” The Canadian Radio-television and

Telecommunications Commission, however, disagrees.

Denis Carmel, spokesman for the federal broadcast regulator, says material like product placement, including that nightly screen crawl along the bottom of Global’s programs promoting the lottery draw, Lotto 6/49, do qualify as advertising. “If it looks like a duck, if it walks like a duck…,” says Carmel, who adds, however, that the CRTC can only act on formal complaints and so far no one has complained.

“It’s like a divorce. If your neighbour thinks you’re not good to your wife, he cannot initiate divorce proceedings. But it does raise interesting questions.” Toronto media analyst John Corcelli, meanwhile, says it’s all part of a trend towards intrusive TV advertising. “They’re bending the rules. They’re trying to gather audience. They need numbers and how they go about doing it doesn’t matter,” says Corcelli. “They’ve sliced up the television pie so much and it’s become so difficult to gain advertising, they will do anything possible. And we have the technology.” Johnson adds that many new viewers and younger viewers are quite used to taking in lots of visuals without being distracted. Corcelli, 40, says he may be old-fashioned but he doesn’t like all this interfering with the program material, an evolution of steps taken years ago to fade the closing theme music and even scrunch the credits into a corner to make way for more promotion announcements. He hopes audiences will protest. “It’s cheesing me off. If this is the way television is becoming, there’s not much hope.”