FCC Proposes Expanding Product Placement Disclosure

Jun 26, 2008  •  Post A Comment

The Federal Communications Commission is proposing longer and larger disclosures of product placement on broadcast television and questioning whether the requirements should be applied to cable.
The proposal was part of an FCC plan, announced today, to re-examine its product placement requirements and examine whether current rules adequately disclose sponsorships.
The FCC questioned whether product placement disclosures should be shown on-screen in bigger type and for up to four seconds. In addition to adding cable programming to the requirements, it questioned whether new rules were needed for embedded messages in children’s programming.
The FCC action comes nearly six months after the agency had been expected to move ahead with a product-placement rulemaking and amidst lobbying from advertising and media groups.
The FCC split its actions into two parts.
In a formal “notice of inquiry and notice of proposed rulemaking,” it launched an immediate rulemaking proceeding about increasing the length of time disclosures are on-screen, whether to apply the disclosure to cable and the kids requirements.
It then launched an inquiry into a broader set of issues, including whether current rules are “effective in ensuring that the public is made aware of product placement and product integration in entertainment programming,” whether broadcasters are adequately fulfilling their requirement to disclose sponsorship and whether disclosure should be made at the same time a product is seen. It’s also looking into the First Amendment implications of placement.
The agency also offered at least one new wrinkle, asking whether product placement in feature films should get special disclosure when the movies air on TV.
FCC Chairman Kevin J. Martin said he has been concerned that, as viewers switch to digital video recorders and skip through commercials, advertisers and media companies are taking steps that may make identification of advertising more difficult.
“TiVo and digital video recorders now allow viewers to more easily skip through commercials,” Mr. Martin said. “Due in part to these technological developments, networks may be turning to more subtle and sophisticated means of incorporating commercial messages into traditional programming. As these become increasingly prevalent, there is growing concern that our sponsorship identification rules may fall short of their ultimate goal: to ensure that the public is able to identify both the commercial nature of programming as well as its source.”
Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein, who has been pushing for a revision of the rules, said he would have preferred the FCC go further in the rulemaking portion, but was especially pleased the agency would look at strengthening disclosures for children’s programming and boosting the length of disclosure.
He called the size of display and the length of times they appear “make a mockery” of the FCC’s current “full and fair” disclosure requirements.
He said the examination of kids advertising is necessary because of “the concerns that parents, experts and I have been voicing for years about the unhealthy messages American media are feeding our kids.”
Mr. Martin has announced plans for the inquiry last year amidst petitions from Commercial Alert, a consumer group, and pleas from U.S. Reps. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., and Ed Markey, D-Mass., that product placement is increasingly “blurring” the lines between content and advertising. Mr. Waxman heads the House Oversight & Government Reform Committee and Mr. Markey heads the House Energy & Commerce Committee’s telecom committee. The Federal Trade Commission rejected a similar petition from Commercial Alert.

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