If you’ve watched syndicated reruns of sitcom How I Met Your Mother lately, you might have been startled to see advertisements for very current movies such as Bad Teacher and Zookeeper in episodes that originally aired as early as 2006, long before those flicks were made. The photos here, for instance, are from the second-season episode titled “Swarley,” which originally aired Nov. 6, 2006 — more than four years before Bad Teacher hit theaters. So… what exactly is going with this phenomenon? EW investigated, and here’s the scoop.
Turns out that 20th Television — the studio distributor behind Mother — has been selling promotional spots in syndicated episodes to wring even more money out of the sitcom’s already rich syndication deals. Specifically, the feat is accomplished by a partnership with a company, SeamBI, which stands for Seamless Brand Integration and is responsible for digitally altering old episodes with new products and brands.
The company’s CEO Roy Baharav calls SeamBI an “advertising technology innovator” and says that what they do — in essence, monetizing aging television shows by adding new brands and product placement into old episodes — is the future. “What we do is we insert, very efficiently, brands into content in a natural way and in a way that is valuable to advertisers,” Baharav says. “So we find the balance between not compromising the integrity of the content and, on the other end, bring a lot of value to the advertiser.”
In the two examples pictured here, not only the advertisements for Bad Teacher were added, but the devices on which they are displayed were also inserted into the episode. In the coffee shop scene with Marshall (Jason Segel) above, the plasma TV screen was inserted and functions much like one you might typically see in a coffee shop or, for instance, a bar. “In most cases, we insert new things,” explains Baharav. “Not only have we created it, but we created it with a reason that it was there. This is something that the producers insist on — that there is a reason why the device is there. It’s not only a plasma TV. If you look at it, it has a ticker on the side with the NASDAQ status and the Dodgers score, and so on. Basically, it’s just like when you go to a coffee shop, it’s what you might find.” The Bad Teacher poster in the second photo (below) with Ted (Josh Radnor) and Barney (Neil Patrick Harris) was added to a lamp post that was already in the scene.
SeamBI started about five years ago after Baharav saw the pressure that DVR penetration was putting on the 30-second commercial. It took more about two years to fully develop the technology, and the first time it went on the air in what Baharav calls a “scalable” way was in September 2009, in syndicated episodes of My Name is Earl, which is another 20th Century Fox Television property. The company worked their magic on all 96 episodes of My Name is Earl that were produced; each episode has two or three opportunities to insert advertising, depending on what’s going on in the storyline. SeamBI has also worked new brands and advertisements into shows like Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?
The really interesting thing about the technology is that the advertising can be changed for different markets (the Bad Teacher advertisements, for example, were specific to the New York metropolitan area) and can also be changed to a new advertisement in subsequent re-airings. What that means is that the show can continue to make even more money for the syndicator. “We looked for a way to basically find a hybrid between a commercial and product placement,” Baharav says. “It’s in the content, but it can change in a very efficient way, so that you can monetize the content throughout the life cycle.”
Baharav believes that the My Name is Earl and How I Met Your Mother integrations are only the beginning for his technology. He says that changing the brands of cars featured in episodes of television is in the future. “It’s very sophisticated, but it’s possible and I believe that in the future we’ll see it just like with the billboards.” Other examples of what can be switched out for new advertisers in reruns include cell phones, hotels, and beverages. “This is going to increase the value even further.”
Fans may bellyache about this practice because it could be seen as messing with the integrity of what the show was originally. But Baharav says that they try to stem that from happening by making the integrations seem natural. “Everything is designed in such a way that it’s going to feel natural,” he says. “We’re not going to risk any integrity of the content.”
What’s the future of this kind of thing? Will we see more of it? Of course, Baharav hopes that this is just the beginning — and he says that SeamBI is targeting broadcast and cable networks for the technology, beyond just syndicated reruns. “Definitely I see this as something that is going to be a part of the future, as we see the pressure on the commercials keep increasing,” he says. “I think this is going to be a very popular alternative.”
Tanner on Twitter: @EWTanStransky