The Twitter-born clash between Anthony Bourdain and his former employers at the Travel Channel has underscored a growing divide in the entertainment industry over the unchecked integration of sponsored products on TV shows.
In a spate of angry tweets on Monday, the outspoken celebrity chef blasted the network’s ad sales department as "mother*****ers" over what he said was unapproved product placement on his long-running show, “No Reservations.” Bourdain also took to his personal Tumblr page for a lengthy, at times scathing, missive in which he aired his grievances against the network.
In the post -- titled “Fighting Mad” -- Bourdain explained that he had expressly banned product integration from “No Reservations.” He cited an incident when viewer backlash was intense after an isolated instance of product placement on the program, so much so that he later had it written into his contract that his “name or image was never to be used to either endorse, or imply use of a product without my specific agreement.”
But all bets are apparently off since Bourdain announced in May that he was leaving the Travel Channel for a cushy new gig on CNN. In the Tumblr post, Bourdain wrote that one of the final episodes of “No Reservations,” in which he is seen driving around in a Cadillac, was edited as to appear that he endorsed the luxury car. He said the crafty editing was done without his knowledge or approval.
“After the first airing of the commercial, I let the network know of my extreme displeasure,” Bourdain wrote. “Fair warning, one would think. They ran it again anyway.”
IBTimes asked the Travel Channel for comment. A spokesperson for the network emailed a statement it released on Tuesday: “We’ve enjoyed a long and mutually beneficial relationship with Tony and his production team, but his decision to make further remarks on this matter in the public domain is unfortunate.”
Cadillac, meanwhile, has reportedly washed its hands of the affair. In a comment to Jalopnik, the car-culture blog owned Gawker Media, spokesman David Caldwell pointed out that the Travel Channel produced the scenes in question, not Cadillac. “We’re in the crossfire of Bourdain’s feud with Travel Channel,” he added. “We can all agree that Mr. Bourdain and Travel Channel going their separate ways seems like the right result.”
Bourdain, for his part, said on his Tumblr that he has “no problem with Cadillac.”
Battles over product placement are becoming increasingly common as TV networks figure out different ways to promote advertisers in the age of DVRs. In January, DVR maker TiVo reported that less than 38 percent of television is watched live, leaving the majority of conventional commercials subject to the whims of ad-skipping viewers.
And it’s only going to get worse. Over the last several months, the major broadcast networks have been in a battle with Dish Network over its AutoHop service, which makes it even easier for TV viewers to bypass commercials. The service was introduced in March, and two months later, ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox sued the company, arguing that AutoHop is tantamount to “a bootleg, commercial-free video-on-demand service,” one that would cause irrevocable harm to the industry.
Fox, meanwhile, has sought a preliminary federal injunction to block AutoHop on the grounds that it violates copyright laws, but that attempt was denied earlier this month by U.S. District Court Judge Dolly Gee, even while acknowledging that some of Fox’s concerns are valid.
But while TV networks are free to file all the lawsuits they want, the media don’t have a particularly triumphant track record when it comes to curbing new technologies they deem threatening. Witness the online piracy battles of the record companies and movie studios.
In the meantime, the public fray between Bourdain and the Travel Channel is not over. The famous chef is scheduled to appear on CNN’s “Piers Morgan Tonight” on Tuesday, when Morgan is likely to interrogate him about the scuffle.
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