Skip to main content

Pay-to-Play Toys and Local News

The LA Times has an interesting story on paid plugs and the lack of their disclosure on TV stations’ newscasts. James Rainey looks specifically at a toy expert displaying hot playthings of the fall season on the air in Phoenix, Detroit and Atlanta, among other markets. The toy expert charges the toy manufacturers to be included in her TV station tour, so viewers are seeing products that have been paid for to be on the air.

Mind you, the station is not being paid for the toys’ appearance. But Rainey notes that the station is still expected to divulge to viewers that the products they’re being told are must-haves are on the air because the makers have paid for the privilege.

He writes:

Simply to uphold their own standards for truth and transparency, you would hope that TV news outlets would tell viewers about such payments. Federal law requires disclosure, too, “when a broadcast station transmits any matter for which money, service or other valuable consideration is either directly or indirectly paid.” That would include noting that advocates giving an opinion about a product have been paid to do so.

But that’s not what Rainey says is happening after checking with WJBK Detroit, WAGA Atlanta and KTVK Phoenix–all of whom claimed they were not told that the toy expert, Elizabeth Werner, is plugging on behalf of paid clients. Rainey says stations should push on-air guests harder to see if they’re repping anyone.

The ever-expanding morning newscasts around the country mean the issue will only grow, believes Rainey.

The trend promises to continue and grow. TV news producers must fill an expanding news hole, particularly in the mornings, where many news programs have been extended from three to four, five and even six hours. And advertisers, fearful of being blocked by viewers with video recorders and mute buttons, don’t mind paying for promotional appearances that make them more visible and credible.