The future of streaming video is scary: Virtual Product Placement Ads incoming

Martin Brinkmann
Oct 17, 2022

Virtual Product Placement ads are the holy grail when it comes to product placement in video content. The new ad type may change content in streaming videos to display advertisement on billboards or signs, and even place products elsewhere on the screen.

amazon prime video windows 10

Currently, most TV shows and movies are final products once they have been released. There is no option to modify the content anymore. With Virtual Product Placement ads, this is a thing of the past, at least when it comes to streaming media.

Amazon presented its new Virtual Product Placement tool recently to advertisers. It allows advertisers to directly into streaming content after it has been filmed and product. Peacock's In-Scene advertisement is a similar product that advertisers may use to insert their products or messages into already produced content.

Product placement is a billion Dollar business. Sometimes, product placements are easily spotted by viewers, while at other times, it is more subtle. Up until now, the decision to advertise certain products in a movie or TV show had to be made during filming. The new technology allows advertisers to decide on placements after production.

Virtual Product Placement ads are not targeting individual viewers currently, but future iterations of the technology may allow just that. Streaming giants such as Amazon may use it to display targeted ads to each individual viewer. Amazon is in a prime position, as it already has lots of information about its customers thanks to its shopping site and other services.

There is also the chance that other changes are made to video streams without the viewer even knowing about them.

TechCrunch reports that Amazon is using the beta ad product already in some of its shows, including Bosch: Legacy, Bosch, Reacher, Leverage: Redemption and Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan. Prime Video and the ad-powered Frevee service use it.

It is not clear whether the new advertising product is used in all Prime markets or only in specific markets. Local legislation may prevent certain product placement types or require that companies display disclaimers.

Closing Words

Amazon's Virtual Product Placement ads technology is in beta currently. It remains to be seen how it evolves in the coming months and years, and whether it will launch in all markets or only select ones.

It will be interesting to see whether companies will use the advertising technology on their ad-free products, or if they will reserve these to ad-financed products only. Amazon seems intent to use it on Prime Video and Freevee.

Viewers have little options against this form of product placement, provided that the companies do not integrate an off-switch for these. Abstinence and the purchase of DVDs and Blu-Rays are the only working options in the worst case scenario.

Now You: do you use streaming services?

The future of streaming video is scary: Virtual Product Placement Ads incoming
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The future of streaming video is scary: Virtual Product Placement Ads incoming
Virtual Product Placement ads are the holy grail when it comes to product placement in video content, but viewers should be scared.
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  1. Peterc said on October 19, 2022 at 7:55 pm

    Why is everyone so pessimistic about this development? Am I *really* the only one who is looking forward to watching reruns of Game of Thrones where Grand Maester Pycelle is with Ros and his dialog has been expertly changed from “Kings? I can tell you all there is to know about kings” to “Depends? I can tell you all there is to know about Depends”? [NB non-US readers: Depends is a brand of adult diapers in the United States.] And where they’ve digitally changed Ros’s facial expression and tone of voice from bored-out-of-her-skull to the-most-fascinated-she’s-ever-been-in-her-entire-life? Just think of the creative possibilities! It’s a Brave New World, and I for one can’t wait to live in it! /s

  2. Anonymous said on October 19, 2022 at 12:18 pm

    I think is a dangerous misdirection to make the entry question ‘do you use streaming services?’

    This tech goes far beyond ‘just’ delivering ads. In streaming services.
    It is being brought to market as “just” product placement, and the sheeple will let it happen because “it’s just ads, what’s the harm”.

    But it can be used for so much more, and soon will. It may be subliminal marketing that gets it in the door, but that kind of ‘stealth manipulation’ is not something they can resist misusing in every concievable way.
    Just like the rapid cutting, almost flickering, used in advertising now. I remember back when the research behind that was being discussed around 99-01, there was actual talk to outlaw it before it got out of control because we could see where it would go, preying on limitations of the brain.

    People are basically dumb and shortsighted when tasked with dealing with something even a little outside their normal train of thought. They focus on getting the subscription cheaper or free, while not thinking about the price they are paying down line.
    Which includes things like buying something more expensive, being ‘talked into’ buying things they don’t need (like gambling, taking loans), indulging bad snack/alcohol urges, etc. in ways that a regular chunk of obvious advertising can not.

    Since they are also not very observant – and why should you need to be, the reasonable outset is that product placement does not exist at all outside of actual advertisements – so unless “they” make it too obvious and crass causing a huge backlash shitstorm, it will become the new sicker level of normal.
    There will, at least temporarily, be a industry around looking for and marking useful areas in old content while new content will have accomodation for this built right in, think like reserved green-screen areas but with more support.
    Poster on a wall in a show – basically a canvas waiting to be used
    Clean tshirt (without print) – bam, gets something on it
    Shops and signs in the background – easily replaced.
    Can of beer, bottle of wine – easy to relabel to what you want to sell. Same for a pack of cigarettes.
    Those are just some obvious easy to understand examples. A thinker can see how it can be used far beyond that.
    At first it will be too costly, akin to a remastering to put in new special effects (and making Han not shoot first), but as the tooling improves and you get ML trained on assisting the task, it will get easier to the point of trivial. It’s already easy, to the point of mere clicks and basically doing it in realtime, to change the colour of clothes and tone of skin, colour of eyes and a different iris&pupil.
    Nothing is safe anymore. Once it becomes cheap or easy…

    Another poster pointed out the existing use in sports broadcasts. That is just the low end, with projecting & masking to put stuff on field and boards/walls/signs. You’ve seen nothing yet if you think that is as far as it can go. That’s just them dipping a toe into waters that are already used to very obvious advertising screens being present, so it was hardly rocking the boat while being a useful playground for live-testing some basics.
    This will not stop there, it’s eventually going for full “re-texturing” of existing in-scene objects and insertion of new objects (and removal of others) as seamless as a highbudget movie.

  3. George said on October 19, 2022 at 5:39 am

    I thought modifying content is super-highly illegal…?

  4. Gary said on October 19, 2022 at 1:56 am

    So does this mean if I prefer seeing ads featuring beautiful girls tastefully modeling swimwear it falls upon me to spend a significant amount of time on Amazon each week surfing that category of product?

    You understand, merely because I’d want to do my part to ensure the correct ads are served to me!

  5. dmacleo said on October 18, 2022 at 8:03 pm

    anyone remember the old tv series Max Headroom????

  6. Croatoan said on October 18, 2022 at 1:57 pm

    It’s already possible in real time for footbal games. Ads are defined by TV house that uses streaming rights.

    1. Mystique said on October 19, 2022 at 8:56 am

      Yes I believe NBA2k also does this also.
      I recall a bit of controversy there and also recall the Need for Speed or another racing simulator that had this which someone above eluded to also.

      Product placement is nothing new but it was always discussed and done pre-production but this sounds like the above where new ads and products are slipped in on the fly cleverly within the movie as you are watching it.

      The 007 movies were just as famous for product placement as they were theatrical depending on who you ask but I digress because they were decent movies. (excluding Daniel Craig movies)

      I will stick to the physical medium and rip what I want to a driver and run my own server for the household or even for myself remotely. That way I am not at the mercy of some shadow company taking it all away from me at any given moment or pushing ads and charging additional fees and yes I am well aware that this could be a costly path but it pays for itself in the long run especially once you have enough media to keep you busy for a number of years.

  7. Mystique said on October 18, 2022 at 8:12 am

    From my understanding this is not so much about actual segmented commercials but product placements and perhaps some sort of dynamic way to insert them into a scene background or changing of say a billboard that is targeted at a specific geographic, demographic and perhaps even your subscription service details. Amazon could go so far as to correlate this with your spending on its platform even. Streaming platforms could also create a bid to win system for potential buyers.
    I don’t know how well this would work if it uses an outside connection to serve said ads as one could simply sniff and decipher the ad server for such ads. Another way around that for them is they could pack a bundle of ads into a container format such as MP4 or MKV and then flag which ones to use based on your profile and parameters mentioned above.
    These things could be as simple as a can of soda on the table being presented as Coca-Cola, Pepsi or Sunkist.

    Downloading files may not necessarily help if this kind of thing takes off because you can bet they will be slipping in products and ads left, right and center anywhere they can even in older movies if they can. The more popular the title the more likely they will target it for such ads.

    1. Cor Invictus said on October 18, 2022 at 9:28 am

      They have been doing that since the day moving pictures were invented.
      I’m proud with the firm decision to quit cinema. It’s been more than 13 years now without brain washing, propaganda, and kitsch.

  8. eljay said on October 18, 2022 at 12:57 am

    In the future, ads will appear in your dreams.

  9. yanta said on October 17, 2022 at 11:51 pm

    Ads are easy to avoid. Don’t watch free to air or streaming platforms. They are nothing but mind-numbing, IQ destroying garbage. To get 10% of the US catalog I could pay up to A$300 per month. I’d rather save that and talk with friends, socialize. I haven’t watched ad supported TV since the 80’s and have never subscribed to a streaming platform. Nothing but rubbish.

  10. David said on October 17, 2022 at 10:57 pm

    Ich hasse Kapitalismus.

  11. John G. said on October 17, 2022 at 10:45 pm

    At least you can pay to see movies “enjoying” a couple of ads. In the other hand, you can see a lot of ads for free to see a bad quality movies and other productions with lower quality than expected. Here in Europe there is dozens and dozens of TV channels with ads all the day long, one movie of 90 minutes can reach easily the 140 minutes with such amount of ads! Thanks for the article!

  12. Anonymous said on October 17, 2022 at 4:55 pm

    and p2p torrents will rage..

  13. VioletMoon said on October 17, 2022 at 4:50 pm

    “Abstinence and the purchase of DVDs and Blu-Rays are the only working options in the worst case scenario.”

    Not exactly–such an approach may mitigate or obviate Virtual Product Placement, but it does nothing to eliminate Product Placement which has a very long history as in “A Very Long Engagement.” {One of the great French movies with the adorable Audrey Tautou.}

    For a simple refresher, the link below provides 16 simple examples of Product Placement. To the casual viewer, it’s not so obvious that the subtle advertising technique works at a subconscious level, a level that is much deeper with much more “power” to change attitudes, beliefs, and influence purchasing habits.

    What may be more disconcerting about Virtual Product Placement is that a “few directors, like Quentin Tarantino or David Lynch, will not work with this approach [Product Placement] as it distracts the viewer from the story and brings no artistic value.”

    With Virtual Product Placement, the option to disengage from nefarious advertising schemes, an option chosen by directors, could theoretically be vetoed by Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, etc.

  14. Tom Hawack said on October 17, 2022 at 2:53 pm

    I don’t use streaming services myself, unless to consider video platforms (YouTube (via ‘Piped’ in my case), Dailymotion, Vimeo etc) as such.
    Concerning movie productions in this context I’ll subscribe to Martin’s conclusion : “Abstinence and the purchase of DVDs and Blu-Rays are the only working options in the worst case scenario.”. Even in the best case scenario as far as I’m concerned.

    Virtual Product Placement Ads as described in the article is frightening. There’s always a red line, a limit. Any ‘always more’ policy, business philosophy doesn’t seem to be aware of this. Nothing in life persists and develops over time without moderation. Inevitably advertisement is meant to encounter big problems, sooner or later. There have been, still are but few advertisers and liberals to consider that there is no valid business strategy without considering the consumer before the product. The trend is opposite. Clash at the end of the road.

    1. PLI said on October 18, 2022 at 4:22 am

      Tom, the antepenultimate sentence in your comment isn’t very clear. Also, do you mean “liberalism” as understood in the United States or as understood in (Western) Europe. Because that term is used to describe two quite different things depending where you live. Disclaimer: I don’t live in any of those two

      And I can’t believe that neither Martin nor you mentioned the “elephant in the room” regarding availability of digital content: piracy. Not that I like it or endorse it, but it obviously EXISTS

      1. Tom Hawack said on October 18, 2022 at 10:12 am

        @PLI, “liberalism” as the characteristic of being open-minded or moderate in one’s views and opinions, favoring gradual political reform, protection of civil rights, and equal distribution of wealth. This is not communism as some hysterical conservatives dare say and is fully compatible with good business but does presuppose/imply considering the consumer before the product. In my view of course. Now, if I make good money, valuable profits but decide that I wish to make even more and that this requires to cross the red line, bypass respect and consideration for others then I’m no longer a businessman but a jerk.

        As for piracy, whatever one’s approach regarding the moral dimension, no doubt that dishonesty of corporations is likely to legitimate “work arounds” such as stealing the fruit which is notoriously too expensive. The price includes the cost, the advertisement and the privacy issues. If my approach may be of any interest I’d say that I disapprove piracy as I disapprove robbery, and for reasons that prevail on morality : disturbance of harmony understood in terms of a civilization’s intelligence, so to say; negative.

  15. Cor Invictus said on October 17, 2022 at 2:53 pm

    It’s scary when you’re using it.
    If you don’t, it’s laughable.

  16. Mystique said on October 17, 2022 at 2:22 pm

    This is just further proof that if you give studios more power they will continue to abuse it. Streaming is just another fine example of how they plan to extract as much money as they can from you.

    It might have had a scrap of hope in the start when there were very few players and no ads but now we have far too many services with tied in content, dearer subscriptions, ads, availability issues, internal bickering etc etc that everything will default back to piracy as it should be because as near as I can tell only piracy is able to offer what people want which is sad when you think about it.
    The next step from here for the scumbag studios/services is to lock you into contracts and then we come full circle to your old cable service but worse.

    and they wonder why people pirate…

    Luckily for me there is barely anything that is new that is worthwhile watching that I do not even bother anymore.

    1. Bindere Dundat said on October 17, 2022 at 6:04 pm

      “Luckily for me there is barely anything that is new that is worthwhile watching that I do not even bother anymore.”

      Amen to that!

      It’s ‘their’ platform and ‘they’ can do whatever ‘they’ want to do with it.
      It’s ‘your’ eyes and ‘your’ time. It’s up to ‘you’ to decide what’s best for ‘you’.

  17. Anonymous said on October 17, 2022 at 2:15 pm

    It’s funny because this dystopian idea of subtly editing video content after its creation to insert personalized messages is also used by fascist cybercriminals as a harassment technique. Once again the line between criminal malware and the ad industry is very blurry.

  18. Mothy said on October 17, 2022 at 1:44 pm

    I stopped using streaming services or consuming any kind of mainstream content/entertainment back in 2017 when everything started going “woke”. But it’s also in part because I work 10 hour shifts where I have to sit in front of two large computer screens. So when I’m not working I prefer to get away from any kind of screen and preferably get outside into nature and do something more productive with my time and energy.

    1. Peter Parker Kent said on October 17, 2022 at 6:16 pm

      Good call on all points!

      1. Andy said on October 18, 2022 at 12:41 pm

        “going woke”

        lol, casual racism

      2. Jake said on October 18, 2022 at 7:02 pm

        Going “woke” is a legitimate concern. Ignorance is bliss, isn’t it Andy?

  19. storage_exp said on October 17, 2022 at 12:34 pm

    Torrents ftw!

  20. Yash said on October 17, 2022 at 12:14 pm

    Ditched last streaming service mainly because it didn’t show one particular live match. In Amazon Prime Video content is fragmented and so to watch one particular movie you have to subscribe to another service on top of Amazon Prime. Amazon even offers bundled plans/combo plans. That for me is final nail in coffin.

    Anyway, to all those folks wondering what are the alternatives? Just dive deep into internet, not dark web or deep web or torrent, you know casual browsing and after few searches you can find any content you want at any resolution. Of course I’m not promoting piracy in any shape or form ;-)

  21. Sampei.Nihira said on October 17, 2022 at 11:05 am

    I do not use streaming services.
    If I want to see some movies I prefer to make through the browser a download of the movie to a usb key.
    The last movie I watched this way was CHASE with Gerard Butler

  22. beemeup5 said on October 17, 2022 at 10:46 am

    I might be remembering wrongly, but I think there was a Need For Speed game that featured a similar type of in-game ads for their online component. The billboards inside the virtual city would feature actual product placements which is actually kinda neat, but now they’re trying to do it with streaming shows? Who knows, maybe in the not so distant future they’ll start shooting a variety of different scenes for one episode and show you the scenes which the algorithm thinks aligns more closely with your political leaning, along with more personalized ads, naturally.

    Just building more virtual walls to segregate people into neat, advertiser-friendly boxes.
    Soon the only speech allowed will be safe, insipid, advertiser-friendly speech… oh wait!

    1. yanta said on October 17, 2022 at 11:58 pm

      I think what people are missing here – which you eluded to – is that TV and movie producers – to be able to serve you tailored ads have to know everything about you in the first place to make those ads targetted. How did they get that profile of you in the firsts place?

      Because you use a cell phone. You use social networking and you share so much personal information. Everything you do is tracked, traced and surveilled.

      The entire concept of targetted ads in content is offensive to the extreme. It means your personal information has been shared with movie and TV studios, possibly without your consent.

      Why does no one see this as a massive privacy issue?

  23. anona said on October 17, 2022 at 10:24 am

    Can’t wait to pay for my ad-supported Netflix subscription and watch content with targeted ads disguised as product placement! All on my ad-supported Smart TV of course, or maybe on my ad-supported smartphone if I’m on a plane.

    Soon we’ll have four IDs for the powers that be to catalogue us: Tax Number, Passport Number, Phone Number, and Ad ID.

    1. Anonymous said on October 18, 2022 at 2:37 am

      Pretty soon you’ll be virtually in a Black Mirror episode.

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