'How I Met Your Mother': Why are ads for new movies in old reruns? -- PHOTO


Image Credit: 20th Century Fox Television

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.


Image Credit: 20th Century Fox Television

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

Comments (169 total) Add your comment
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  • Sarah El

    That’s kind of creepy.

    • Jenckles

      Because these ads only work on idiots who watch hacky sitcoms with a laugh track (even though it is NOT FILMED IN FRONT OF A STUDIO AUDIENCE!) and those are the audience on How I Met Your Mother.

      • Cris

        Geez, man. I’m not really a fan of the show, either, but why the anger? It’s totally harmless.

      • Dana

        How I Met Your Mother is not filmed in front of a studio audience; however, the laugh track is genuine. An audience is shown the finished cut, and their laughter is then added as the track.

      • Lisa S

        What a rambling half-baked article that misses the whole point.
        Poeple don’t like commercials. They channel flip OR they skip ‘em when they’ve DVR’d.
        This is nothing but a clever way to use product placement. Perhaps a bit shady, but it’s a necissity given the high costs of production (and distribution) for popular TV shows.

      • thin

        The strange thing about the laugh track is that it (apparently) doesn’t get used in all markets. There’s no laugh track when it airs in Phoenix, but one time when I missed an episode and downloaded it, it had one, and it was terrifically disorienting.

      • Matt

        Jenckles, you’re obviously a supernatural fan – that show isn’t pushing the boundaries of television; it’s just a good show that retreads ground, much like How I Met Your Mother.

      • @ Lisa S

        Gosh Lisa, I don’t think the article missed the point. It clearly stated what you said the point was. How is that a miss?

      • @ thin

        There is no laugh track in my market.

      • dex

        What Dana said is a fact and can be confirmed. Try not to make assumptions.

      • Jane D’oh

        They can’t use a live audience because of the quick-cut nature of the show.

      • Sam

        Jenckles, do you really believe there is no advertising in dramas and other non-sitcom television shows? Really? Watch a little closer.

      • Katie

        The laugh track is hardly even noticeable (in my area, there isn’t one,) and the product placement is ahelluva lot more clever than most. At least they aren’t blantantly showing off some Blackberry while the character is txting something that could be easily written into the dialogue, nor getting close-ups of their Mac laptops or Nike sneakers. It looks campy and out of place, but you also have to realize that the movies STAR THE ACTORS IN THE SHOW. They’re not even sponsored by those movies, so, yeah, it’s only reeling revenue for their actors, not the show itself.

    • Color Me Impressed

      This is awful! This show is all about the timeline and what year it takes place in; this certainly does harm the “integrity” of the show!

      • Wha’ever

        Yes, that’s what I thought about when I read the article. HIMYM is the perfect example to illustrate why this new ad placement is wrong. It could work on other shows where timeline isn’t as important, but not on HIMYM.

      • kate middleton

        Totally agree. This is super skeezy.

      • Sheila

        Agreed, they’d better be careful not to put a horrid Transformers poster in one of the far-flashback scenes. That would leave the audience bewildered and confused.

      • Skip182

        I’m so glad someone else brought this up. Totally agree.

      • Mike

        The ironic thing is, I never would have noticed the ads if EW didn’t bring it up…now I’ll be looking for them lol

      • AK

        I’m curious what the creators of the show think. They obviously have no control over this practice, so it would have been interesting to get their perspective.

      • frisco kid

        Totally agree with u Color Me Impressed doesn’t make sense since the show is a timeline. Just an excuse for subliminal messages.

      • frisco kid

        Saw the Friends with Benefit ad (Mila kunis & Justin Timberlake flick). First didn’t want to see the movie. But looking back I had a little urge to see it after seeing the episode a few days later… Sneaky bastards

    • LIillyCB

      I agree… :S Creepy but kind of genius though…

    • Bebe

      As interesting as this technology is (or its creators think it is), I highly doubt that seeing a poster for a current movie in an old sitcom episode will make viewers want to go to the multiplex to see that movie. So, it’s pretty pointless, really. And this is coming from someone who has noticed these ads during the past year in reruns of HIMYM. I remember ads for “The Roommate” and some romantic comedy from this year (whose title I’ve completely forgotten). It was jarring, but not effective advertising. As the saying goes, “Just because you CAN do something, doesn’t mean you SHOULD.”

    • kel

      I agree, super creeped.

  • Dude

    HIMYM is a show where episodes take place in specific years, months, and even days. A rerun from 2007, for example, with a movie ad from 2011 would certainly undermine the integrity of the show.

    • James

      Apparently not to the morons at 20th Century Fox. They think you’re so stupid that even though you know its a re-run from 5 years ago, you’ll still go out and try to see a movie you saw on a poster in that re-run.

      That episode where they mentioned the Murtaugh List….was that integrated? Was there a new Lethal Weapon movie that I missed?

      • dee

        This is Fox remember? owned by the same people as The News Of The World they don’t give a toss about anything but $$$$$.

      • lakawak

        dee…don’t embarrass yourself. The number 1 goal of EVERY company….no exceptions…is to maximize profits. Not just News Corp.

        The only one that looked bad from your comment is you. Look looked like a pathetic bi*ch

    • Swarles Barkley

      Am I the only one that was excited to see the first picture was from the episode “Swarley” which is my absolute favorite episode ever?

      • Lisa S

        But you’re the only one that isn’t in grade school who still uses the infantile and unoriginal “Am I the only one…” to start any type of question.

      • Luther

        Is Lisa S the only one with a carrot up her @rse?

      • Asha

        Lisa S. I don’t understand people like you who just attack someone over something so silly. It’s so unoriginal.

      • Mike

        Am I the only one to start my sentence with “am I the only one” just to spite Lisa S?

      • Anya

        Am I the only one who doesn’t get what’s wrong with using “am I the only one” at the beginning of a question?

      • Mike

        Am I the only one who started this question with “am i the only one” just to spite Lisa S again but to answer Anya’s question with a “no, you’re not the only one”?

      • Am I the only one that

        Can’t wait to get my subscription to People en Espanol addressed to Sawrlos?

      • Am I the only one that

        Ooops – Swarlos.

      • Squishmar

        Am I the only one who is laughing really hard at this? Oh, yeah. I probably am.

    • Mandy

      So true. This show is all about the timeline because it jumps around alot, so I don’t think they should be messing with that.

  • James

    So, basically SeamBI rapes old TV shows? Because that’s what it read like.

    I’m reminded of The Critic, the old Jon Lovitz cartoon, wherein he was constantly moaning about (at the time) fictional things that were being done to movies in his universe, such as an alternate ending for Casablanca, and the colorization of Citizen Kane.

    How prescient that show has turned out to be.

    We’re all just trained monkeys, I guess.

    • Chris

      This comment cracked me up since I love that show. It reminds me in that same episode they altered a scene in one flew over the coo coo’s nest where the indian and the nurse was advertising Duke Phillips brand detergent.

    • Fargin Bastiges

      TV reality imitating TV art.

  • Sara

    Honestly, if this means less commercials and less of the characters talking about a product (ie: Bones with Toyota), then I’m all for it. Its an interesting alternative, and a clever solution to getting the word out. It might be interesting to watch syndicated shows just to see what ads may have changed.

    • James

      It doesn’t mean less commercials. They still want their 8 minutes per 30 minute show of real advertizing, now they’re just trying to find ways of ruining the 68% of the hour that we actually find enjoyable.

      • Peter

        And Sara’s point is this is less obtrusive than, say, watching Olivia Dunham using her Ford Sync for 30 seconds of an episode of Fringe.

      • Mike

        See, that stuff just cracks me up…the Fringe example…more than annoys me. I know that we have to pay for what we watch somehow, so I’m perfectly fine with them using product placement in these shows…even taking a few seconds to demonstrate a product in the show. We all our consumers of these products, so why wouldn’t the characters in our show be those consumers too? I personally love the ridiculous video chat calls that Nina and Broyles have when it would be a lot easier to just talk. Then she flips the phone up at the machine for a second and says “SEE? It’s on!!” LOL Ahhh good times.

      • Mike

        “cracks me up more than it annoys me” is what i was trying to say.

    • Amy

      I despise the product placement in Bones. It is written so poorly and is so glaring it infuriates me. Surely the writers can do better, no?

    • stephanie

      I’ll agree with that! The product placement on Gossip Girl, for example, is painfully intrusive. At least these are just posters the characters are walking past.

  • anthony

    That’s actually a pretty cool idea, from a marketing standpoint

  • Two Headed Sex Beast

    I hope we finally meet the brother this year.

  • markinnyc

    (it must be working)

    • e4ia

      Ha ha. I always wondered how the ad execs really think this works. I mean, I see ads for “Bad Teacher” everywhere and still have no urge to see it. And the people who want to see it already know about it and will see it no matter how many ads they see. Do they really think that people watching this show will be like “Oh look…a poster for “Bad Teacher”..I wasn’t going to see it, but now that I see a poster for it (for the 254th time), I think I will now go see it…”

      • Sage

        I believe the purpose of some ads is just to make consumers aware of the product.
        If someone asked them, have you heard of that movie, ‘Bad Teacher’? They’d say yeah.
        It’s like with The Hunger Games, everyone was talking about it and people went to go see it just because it seemed socially relevant. (Even though the movie isn’t that good.)

        Maybe it is a sub-concious brainwashing thing aswell, like you’d look at some movie titles and you’d see “Bad Teacher” and think it’s relevant to you because of some forgotten reason. (that reason being you heard of it in the show)

        It’s fairly subtle advertising, but it works.
        but yeah, I’m sure there are people who stupidly see an ad and just go buy the thing.

  • ian

    I blame George Lucas.

    • Squishmar

      That’s who I thought of too. Someone with absolutely no respect for even his OWN history.

  • ??

    Ok, I guess TV Land can insert ads for Horrible Bosses in old I Love Lucy reruns….

    • Chris

      I’d only watch that if Ricky told Lucy she had some ‘splaining to do on where the hell she found a colored television that advertised movies 60 years in the future.

      • moob

        LOL, my thoughts exactly.. a plasma screen hanging above the fireplace would be rich… along with a Call of Duty poster in the Beaver’s room.

      • Anya

        LOL at both these comments. I can just see Beaver playing Call of Duty.

      • April

        Please don’t give them any ideas. You know some moron will do it!

  • Melissa

    I both love and hate my DVR. Love it because, well, isn’t that obvious? But hate it because with the ability to fast forward through commercials, it forces advertisers to come up with CRAP!!!! like this to advertise to me. SO ANNOYING!!!

  • Ed

    When ad execs say the word “integrity,” you know they are lying. This sucks.

  • Anonymous

    Here’s an idea: either watch HIMYM online through sites like Sidereel or Yidio, or get the DVDS and rip them (HIMYM DVDs are available on Netflix.)
    That way you avoid ads altogether, except for product placement.

  • Ms. Chanandler Bong

    Ok, so this guy is a genius. Except I’m not sure I would’ve noticed if it hadn’t been pointed out.

    • Anonymous

      Thank you for the sarcasm. I figure what I said was worth a mention, because if less viewers watch syndicated HIMYM because of the in-show ads, Fox could very well end the practice, as viewers = $$$

      But I know someone is going to mock my common sense.

      • Luther

        Ms. Chanandler Bong wasn’t replying to you dude. His comment was on the article itself.

      • Ms. Chanandler Bong

        Thanks Luther for clarifying!

    • Asha

      I watch HIMYM reruns every once in a while but I don’t think I’ve ever noticed these changes. I never really noticed any ads ever.

    • Mike

      To Ms. Chanandler Bong: Sorry I can’t resist…”He’s a TRANSPONSTER!!!!” “That’s not even a word!!!”

      • Ms. Chanandler Bong

        Don’t resist…ever!

      • Squishmar

        I always get a smile whenever I see Ms. Chanandler Bong post.

    • @ Ms. Chanandler Bong

      Honestly, I’m not sure I would have noticed either. I’m usually paying so much attention to the characters I often miss what’s going on in the background.

      • Ms. Chanandler Bong

        Totally…I work in advertising so the idea is interesting to me, and the creator saw an area to capitalize, but when I watch TV I’m just so aloof to notice anything other than the dialogue, which on HIMYM cracks me up.

  • angie

    Product placement is bad enough; THESE ads are just effing infuriating.

  • MultiPass

    Genius. it’s the only possible way i would ever see any ads since I DVR everything, Apple TV, On demand it or Netflix. I’d much rather have some innocuous side show BS like this than have to sit through tedious advertisements that I hate and don’t have time for.

    • Bob

      You *do* have time to push your fast-forward button. You really, really do.

      • Mike

        That made a lot of sense. It really, really did. 3.5 Minutes of commercials vs. 5-10 seconds of fast forwarding. Yep, that’s the same.

    • Digby

      If you don’t watch the commercials, you’re stealing.

      • Mike

        Umm…I think his point was that if they’re advertising WITHIN shows, no he/she isn’t!

      • Mike

        Here’s a question, why is the volume louder on the commercials than on the show. That’s right, because people get up from their seat to go to the bathroom or the kitchen or whatever during commercial breaks so they “HOPE” people will “HEAR” the commercials. Are those people stealing too since they’re not watching? And why is marketing catering to these theives by increasing the volume of the commercial?

    • Sheila

      I agree. It is better to see a quick flash of some product or movie than to be subjected to 30 seconds of blather.

      • Peter

        Unless the quick flash overstimulates your sedentary nervous system and causes you to explode.

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