Product Placement On TV Targeted

By Cecilia Kang
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 27, 2008

Possibly coming to televisions across the nation: stronger warnings that the Cokes, Oreos and Sidekicks flaunted by actors have bought their way onto your favorite show.

That's what the Federal Communications Commission signaled yesterday when it said it would review new rules on how television programmers let viewers know when those "props" are really paid pitches.

FCC Chairman Kevin J. Martin said product placements and integration into story lines have increased as television viewers increasingly use recording devices like TiVo and DVRs to fast forward through commercials. Currently, agency's rules require television programmers to disclose sponsors who have embedded products into shows. Those disclosures typically are done during the credits at the end of the show, which fly by viewers in small script.

"We want to make sure consumers understand and are aware that they are being advertised to," said Martin, who first pushed to clarify disclosure rules last fall. "We ask how we should update our rules to reflect current trends in the industry."

The FCC plans to study whether sponsorship notices should be written in bigger print and displayed for a defined period. They are looking at adopting rules similar to those for political ads, which require sponsorship messages to be in a print at least four percent the height of a screen and displayed for at least 4 seconds.

The agency also will look into stronger rules for advertisement disclosures in children's and cable programming.

The number of product placements in prime-time television programs rose 13 percent last year, according to a coalition of 31 consumer and family television programming advocates that have pushed the FCC to curb how advertisers integrate products such as Cheerios, Doritos and Big Macs into prime-time shows.

Among the top 10 broadcast television shows, advertisers paid for 26,000 product placements in 2007. Among cable programs, the number was 160,000 placements last year, according to the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood.

"When the boundaries of content and advertising are eroded, it makes children, in particular, more vulnerable to things like junk food -- Coca-Cola and Oreos -- when we are faced with an epidemic of childhood obesity," said Josh Golin, a spokesman for the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood.

Commissioner Jonathan S. Adelstein said rules need to be updated and strengthened so that advertisers clearly let viewers, particularly during children's shows, know when they are being delivered a pitch. "It's like the old subliminal advertising, which people find offensive," Adelstein said.

A Hollywood writers union also has pushed for greater disclosure of advertising during shows. In addition to props such as Sprint Nextel phones and Ford Focus cars appearing on American Idol, Mad TV and other shows, they say writers and actors are increasingly pressured by studios to incorporate products into their scripts.

On the now-canceled "7th Heaven," writers were forced to make Oreo cookies a focal point of an episode, according to Writers Guild of America, West. "Desperate Housewives" integrated GMC's Yukon Denali as part of a subplot.

"The creative community is being forced to become advertisers," said Patric Verrone, president of Writers Guild of America, West.

The union had asked the FCC to force programmers to include real-time notices of product integration and placements in notices stripped across the bottom of the screen. Such a proposal would deter advertisers from embedding their products into shows. That proposal won't be included in a new rule, the FCC said.

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