The company that brought cable TV viewers shows such as "Monster Garage" and "Monster House" is ready with another concept: monster merchandising.

Burbank-based Original Productions LLC launched its own product placement, licensing and merchandising arm called O'Merch in January.

Product placement the paid-for presence of an item in a film or TV program is hardly a new concept. Some in the industry suggest it's nearing the saturation point, in fact. But Original Productions is attempting to take the idea further by not only selling spots within its own shows but by marketing positions on other companies' productions, too.

"It's really a great way to offset production costs," said Tim Beers, president of O'Merch and chief financial officer of Original Productions. "We use shows as a runway to launch the products."

Created in 1998, Original Productions began to appreciate the value of product placement when its own properties and co-productions with the Discovery Channel began to hit the air.

For example, "Monster House," a show dedicated to a themed house overhaul, used a hot tub from Cal Spas in one Zen-inspired home renovation. Branded tools and home improvement supplies turned up on the show, too.

Execs decided to spin off O'Merch, which now has about eight employees, after the work generated enough revenue to warrant breaking out a separate entity. O'Merch has agreements with Newman International Group of Australia, an independent licensing company, and Iikonn Brands Group, a privately held brand management, licensing and consulting firm in Pasadena.

Original Productions' latest series, set to launch on Discovery's sister network The Learning Channel this spring, will be the first to benefit from the efforts of O'Merch.

The reality series is called "The Messengers" and it is dedicated to finding America's next great motivational and inspirational speaker think "The Apprentice" trolling for Tony Robbins.

The show will feature a "Messengers"-branded bus ferrying contestants around Los Angeles. Also planned are a slew of other tie-ins including a clothing line (embroidered with Don't Shoot the "Messenger") and a "Magic 8 Ball"-type toy to deliver inspirational messages.

Some purists object to placing products on creative grounds, but others have practical concerns. Will viewers stay tuned if they think they're watching a hybrid commercial?

And is the advertising effective? For example, will viewers buy slickers worn by the crewman on the company's Learning Channel crab-fishing saga, "The Deadliest Catch"?


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