ION Media Networks, which partners with NBC Universal, Scholastic, Corus Entertainment and Classic Media to produce the programming, unveiled the broad pledge yesterday, formalizing a practice it had quietly put in place earlier. ION sells the ad time for NBC and soon will handle ad sales for Telemundo.
Walt Disney Co.'s ABC, Time Warner's Cartoon Network, Viacom's Nickelodeon and Discovery Networks all have announced plans to limit licensing of their characters, allowing their use only on foods deemed healthful. But those companies have rejected calls from some legislators and Federal Communications Commission officials to restrict the food ads they'll air on their networks.
ION's announcement is the first indication that further changes may be coming as marketers and media companies try to forestall questions on whether ads for less-nutritious products play a role in spreading childhood obesity.
ION said it would feature health and nutrition themes in its programming as well. The ad limits also will apply to its broadcast channel, which airs in 60 markets and on some cable systems.
Ten major food marketers -- that in 2004 accounted for two-thirds of kids' food marketing -- have announced plans to either pull their ads off programming aimed at kids under 12 or limit their marketing to more-nutritious products. But legislators and FCC members continue to push media companies to do more.
'Bold and innovative'
"The ION media network is committing to a bold and innovative plan to promote a healthy lifestyle for our nation's youth," said Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa. "In the midst of a public-health crisis of surging rates of childhood obesity and diabetes in children, these steps forward show that industry is headed in the right direction. ... I am hopeful that other media companies will commit to similar responsible initiatives."
FCC Chairman Kevin J. Martin said ION's decision "demonstrates industry leadership and a commitment to the health and well-being of our children."
ION is a member of the children and obesity ad hoc task force created by Mr. Martin, fellow FCC commissioner Deborah Taylor Tate, and Sens. Harkin and Sam Brownback, R-Kan.
In a statement, ION CEO Brandon Burgess cited the task force and said ION's pledge represents an effort toward "raising the bar for children's programming."