MARKETERS, MEDIA COS. REACH ACCORD ON CHILDREN'S ADS

Pact Still Requires FCC Approval

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WASHINGTON (AdAge.com) -- Just two weeks before dramatic Federal Communications Commission curbs on children's ads were to be implemented, broadcasters, marketers and media companies reached an accord that lessens some of the impact.
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Animated characters
However, even with the agreement -- which still needs FCC approval -- there will be big changes on children’s programs on broadcast TV and cable, and it will also affect broadcasters’ use of animated TV characters on Web pages. The rules are to take effect March 1.

As originally adopted, the FCC’s new children’s advertising rule would have forced broadcasters to start counting program promotions in shows aimed at children under 13 against commercial limits of 12 minutes per hour on weekdays and 10.5 minutes per hour on weekends, essentially reducing available ad time. In addition, media companies would have been banned from showing Web addresses linking to pages in which program characters sold products. Finally, the rule would have limited broadcasters’ ability to pre-empt children's programming. Broadcasters are required to provide three hours of children's programming a week.

Rules challenged
Broadcasters and advertising groups challenged the rules at the FCC and in court, arguing the commission overstepped its bounds and didn't have the right to regulate the Internet. Meanwhile, one consumer group went to court to argue the rule didn't go far enough.

Today’s agreement alters some key elements but leave in place much of the new rule. In one change, broadcasters can run program promotions in children's shows without counting them against commercial time, but only if the promotions are for other children's shows.

In another change, the ban against host characters selling products on Web sites is far less stringent. The "SpongeBob SquarePants" show, for example, couldn’t feature a link to a Web site in which SpongeBob sold merchandise. But the original rule banned SpongeBob from selling products anywhere on Viacom’s Nickelodeon Web site. Under the new accord, Viacom could use SpongeBob to sell products, but not on Web pages mentioned anywhere in the TV show.

Excessive advertising
Consumer groups today claimed victory because much of the new rule remains in effect. “We didn’t get everything we wanted, but this will bring increased children’s programming and good protection against excessive advertising. Litigation would have brought prospects of delay,” said Gloria Tristani, managing director for the United Church of Christ’s Office of Communications, which filed one of the lawsuits.

Patti Miller, VP of Children’s Now, called the agreement, "a big win for kids. Children will now have more options for educational programming and be protected from unhealthy advertising practices."

Media companies said the agreement would allow them to move forward. "We're pleased to have come to a mutually satisfactory agreement with the children's advocacy groups," Walt Disney Co.'s ABC said in a statement. "The rules, as modified, allow us to continue to provide high quality programming for children and families without undue restrictions on our ability to serve other viewers as well."

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