Writers Guild Urges FCC to Disclose Product Integration

Calls for Using On-screen Real-Time Crawl to Alert Viewers to Brand Placements

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LOS ANGELES (AdAge.com) -- Hollywood's screenwriters are the latest group to write poison-pen letters to the Federal Communications Commission about Madison Avenue's use of product integration, which jumped 39% on broadcast TV in the first quarter of 2008, according to Nielsen Product Placement Service.
Patric M. Verrone
Patric M. Verrone

Writers Guild of America West President Patric M. Verrone fired off a letter yesterday to FCC chairman Kevin Martin, urging him to address disclosure issues arising from product integration into film and, especially, broadcast TV.

The FCC is expected to vote later this week to study if TV programs ought to clearly disclose when sponsors paid to have products integrated, and some wire reports have already said that a "notice of proposed rule-making" will be announced as early as tomorrow.

'Cease to be creators'
In his letter, Mr. Verrone wrote: "When writers are told we must incorporate a commercial product into the storylines we have written, we cease to be creators. Instead, we run the risk of alienating an audience that expects compelling television, not commercials."

His solution is to disclose placements in an on-screen crawl. "The practice of placing text along the bottom of the screen, also known as a 'crawl,' is already widely used by many networks to announce weather reports, emergency communications, stock market updates, and other breaking news," he wrote.

Mr. Verrone added that "to further protect creative artists and maximize disclosure, the WGAW believes that the real-time crawl should appear for a reasonable period of time, should move at a reasonable speed, should be clearly readable by the viewer with a reasonable degree of color contrast between the background and the text, and should not include logos or other product-related graphics. The Guild also hopes that any disclosure rules would require the name of the product and the parent company to be included in the crawl."

Latest to protest
The Guild president's missive follows a bevy of public interest groups -- including the Marin Institute, the Free Press and Commercial Alert -- calling for the FCC to establish guidelines requiring on-screen real-time disclosure on TV shows where product integration occurs. Mr. Verrone's letter also calls for a ban on the use of video news releases -- prepackaged segments on local and broadcast news often created by drug companies and marketing departments of other consumer products hoping to tilt media coverage into a more favorable light.

"It is amazing to watch at the audacity of both the advertisers and the broadcast affiliates who allow such blatant advertising opportunities to pass as news," he wrote.

Even as writers were pleading to make product integration so ham-handed as to be rendered useless, proponents of integration were readying their own awards show: The First Annual One Show Entertainment Awards. The show is meant to recognize outstanding creative achievements by brands in the realm of entertainment and will take place, ironically enough, at the Paley Center for Media in Los Angeles on Oct. 7.

The event will "pay tribute to creative branding beyond mere product placement" according to a recent press release touting the event.
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