“We have the ability to create new kinds of experiences for the consumer,” Mirriad CEO Stephan Beringer said. “That’s absolutely necessary nowadays. The market has been overwhelmed with an execution of an advertising idea that has become poorer and poorer. People have just become annoyed by the way they’re bombarded in an intrusive manner by ads.”

Beringer would know—he worked on the agency side of the advertising industry for many years before joining Mirriad. He believes digital, AI-based product placement provides an entirely new canvas outside the paradigm through which the ad industry has operated for decades.

“After the big changes in search and social, there’s a new wave now coming in entertainment-based advertising,” Beringer said. “That’s where [marketers] know they have to go, otherwise they don’t reach people anymore. We haven’t even scratched the surface.”

There appears to be interest. Advertising executives at both Disney and NBCUniversal said digital product placement could be a significant business, and that they were exploring deals to expand into the space.

The third season of Stranger Things included brands like Burger King and Cadillac, among dozens of others. Netflix wasn’t paid by those companies, and therefore turned down an estimated $15 million worth of brand integrations, according to ad tracker Concave Brand Tracking. A Netflix spokesperson said the company rarely profits off of product placement, and that the large majority of brand appearances in its content are written in by creators for a sense of realism—not to provide Netflix with a new revenue stream.

But imagine if every season, of every show, could itself generate millions of dollars in extra revenue without Netflix really having to do anything but give a brand a presence within the world of the show. Those in the product placement space think it’s a matter of “when,” not “if,” Netflix and other ad-free services fully embrace product placement as the technology allows for it to occur with less hassle.

“I don’t think it’s an opportunity that any CEO can continue to tell the shareholders that they can ignore,” said Roy Taylor, the CEO of Ryff, another AI-based brand integration platform.

Taylor believes that the speed and seamlessness with which Ryff can improve the product placement business will lead to something of a revolution. Normally, product placement deals can take from six months up to a year. For films, they can take two years. During that time, a brand can change its packaging, style, design, and message. A lot of potential deals fall apart because what may have made sense to an advertiser a year ago no longer gels with the ad philosophy du jour. The placements themselves require physical TV and film sets to be altered. But companies like Mirriad and Ryff make all that digital.

“In the history of commerce, every single time an industry goes from analog to digital, it always gets bigger, it grows for everybody, and it never goes back to analog,” Taylor argued.

Digital product placement inserted after post-production is clearly an opportunity both marketers and content companies are interested in. But the major hang up is licensing: Distributors have to clear the rights to content with the studio that made the show or movie in order to sell the ad inventory within scenes. That’s much easier when the distributor also owns the content (as Netflix increasingly does), but much harder when it has to negotiate with another studio about adding ads into existing shows and films.

“There’s a learning curve the industry needs to go through, but then it will become commonplace,” Beringer said.

Forrester Research predicted advertisers will double their investment in product placement and with Netflix this year. Netflix called the prediction inaccurate. But it has not denied that product placement could eventually become more abundant on the service—whether it’s being monetized or not. Beringer and Taylor, of course, think the company would be insane not to turn that into another revenue stream.

“If you have a brand in your show, you should be paid for it,” Taylor said. “Those brands should always, always deliver revenues to the content maker. I don’t know why I would ever put an Apple product in my show for free.”

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