As political pressure mounts on media companies to follow food marketers into imposing voluntary limits on the marketing of fatty and sugary foods to kids, Viacom's Nickeloden said it will license its characters mainly for better-for-you foods.
The move comes as the cable channel has been threatened with a lawsuit by the Center for Science in the Public Interest and faced with demands from Congress and appeals from Federal Communications Commission officials.
The public officials cite the marketing of unhealthful foods to kids as contributing to childhood obesity and have urged food, fast-food and media companies to act. Disney announced licensing limits last year, and earlier this week Discovery Communications announced similar limits on Discovery Kids characters.
Ten major marketers have unveiled plans to either abandon kids' ads or limit their appeals to children to more-healthful foods. All have pledged to use licensed characters only for better foods.
Changes to take place in '09
Nickelodeon President Cyma Zarghami in a letter to Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee's telecom panel, said the changes will take effect in new licensing agreements starting in January 2009.
"Nickelodeon will be adopting a policy in which the use of licensed characters on food packaging will be limited to products that meet 'better for you' criteria as established by marketing partners in association with government dietary guidelines," she said.
Nickelodeon licenses its characters to Kellogg and General Mills, among others.
Ms. Zarghami said the only exception is for special-occasion foods, such as birthday cakes, that kids aren't likely to eat all the time. Disney has a similar exception. A Nickelodeon spokesman said the changes are the result of talks with health and government groups.
Media must do more
Nick earlier licensed SpongeBob and Dora to promote vegetables, but some critics, including Mr. Markey, have said media companies need to go further. In a statement yesterday, Mr. Markey commended Nickelodeon but said media companies need to do more.
"As childhood obesity is a serious public-health issue, it is vital that the media companies join food and beverage marketers in adopting socially responsible marketing strategies," he said.