Congressmen Call on FCC to Curb Product Placement

Brand Integration Blurring Line Between Ads, Content

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WASHINGTON ( -- Warning that increased use of product placement and product integration are blurring the line between TV ads and TV content, two congressional committee chairmen are calling on the Federal Communications Commission to do far more to make sure viewers know what they're seeing.
FCC Chairman Kevin Martin
FCC Chairman Kevin Martin Credit: Jim Ruymen

"In our view, the blurring of the line between advertising and content represented by product placement and integration is unfair and deceptive if it occurs without adequate disclosures to the viewing public," Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., and Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., said today in a joint letter to FCC Chairman Kevin Martin. "In some extreme cases, it may also undermine the integrity of the television programming itself."

Mr. Waxman is chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee and Mr. Markey the chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee's telecom committee. Mr. Markey's committee in May held a hearing on issues around product placement and product integration and heard testimony from writers and producers about the pressure they are under to weave products into shows.

Growing concern
During an FCC media-ownership-rules hearing in Chicago last week, Mr. Martin said he had asked other FCC commissioners to initiate a look into the issue of product integration into programming. He suggested DVRs and TiVos may be prompting networks to look at more subtle and sophisticated means of inserting commercial messages and cited growing concern that the agency's sponsorship rules weren't providing adequate disclosure of placement.

Mr. Martin said the FCC would ask for comment about whether its existing sponsorship identification rules need to be amended to ensure adequate disclosure to the public because of increasing industry reliance on embedded-advertising techniques.

The committee chairmen in today's letter praised the statement, but said they didn't feel the FCC had made enough progress since the congressional hearing in addressing some of the issues raised at the hearing.

Line between commercial, creative
"We believe the commission should examine the growth in product placement and product integration and how this trend affects the overall composition and nature of television programming. As part of this inquiring, the commission should also review the criteria broadcasters and cable operators currently use to distinguish between commercial and creative content," said the letter.

The two urged Mr. Martin to do a thorough review of sponsorship-disclosure requirements and said any look should include an examination of whether "rules sufficiently achieve the statutory requirement to inform the viewing public of the actual products being sponsored in a show as well as the entity that paid for such sponsorship."

Dan Jaffe, exec VP of the Association of National Advertising, said similar concerns about product integration in TV were raised in a complaint by Commercial Alert, and the FTC responded that no new rules were needed and that problems could be addressed by the FTC or the FCC without additional enforcement actions.
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