Food fight spreads: FCC backs anti-ad crowd, delivers slap to kids TV

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The battle over kids' obesity is migrating from marketers to the media.

The Federal Communications Commission issued an edict to take effect next January that would count promotions for broadcast and TV programming as part of commercial time in kids' programming. The rule effectively reduces TV inventory for marketers in the name of protecting children-landing the FCC squarely on the side of marketing critics.

Children under 13 "are particularly vulnerable to commercial messages and incapable of distinguishing advertising from program material," the FCC said in announcing its rule.

Given the lobbying clout of the broadcast and cable networks, the rule may never be implemented. But it's nonetheless disturbing to ad groups and broadcasters, coming against a backdrop of Congressional skirmishes over marketing to kids and an upcoming research project examining whether food ads are a factor in kids' obesity. TV networks already face potentially reduced spending from Kraft Foods, which will stop advertising fattier foods to kids.

The American Association of Advertising Agencies, Association of National Advertisers and the American Advertising Federation, along with media companies and program providers, petitioned the FCC to reverse the changes. It would "raise serious economic and constitutional issues," said Dan Jaffe, exec VP of the ANA.

The rule redefines how to count the commercial time in kids' shows against federal limits. The Children's Television Act now requires broadcasters to set aside 3 hours a week for kids shows, allows no more than 12 minutes per hour of ads on weekdays and no more than 10.5 minutes on weekend shows for broadcast or cable kids shows aimed at an under-13 audience. The new rules count promotions against the limit unless the promotions tout shows aimed at the under-13 audience, tightening inventory for paid commercials.

It also imposes a new limit on mentioning Web sites in TV programs. Web addresses can be displayed only for sites that offer "a substantial amount" of program-related information; don't link from a home page to commercial content; and aren't primarily commercial in purpose. Program characters or hosts can't be used in commercials during shows.

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