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FCC Proposes Revamping On-Screen IDs

The Federal Communications Commission proposed mandating that on-screen disclosures of product sponsorships be a certain size and duration, as is the case now with the disclosures of sponsors of political ads. It is also pondering extending product-integration rules to cable and removing a waiver for identification of plugs used in feature films aired on TV.

Currently, the FCC only requires that the sponsorship ID appear once during a show and remain on long enough to be heard or read by the average viewer.

The FCC is proposing changes to its 70-plus-year-old sponsorship-identification rules to reflect the rise of video-news releases, product placement and product integration.

In a notice or proposed rulemaking combined with a notice of inquiry issued Thursday night, the FCC confined its proposal to the size and duration of the disclosure but asked several other questions. Those included whether there should be contemporaneous on-screen indentifiation of product placements and whether plugs in feature films aired on TV should have to identify the product sponsors. Currently those films get a pass.

The commission also asked for comment on whether it should clarify its rules governing advertising in children's programming to expressly prohibit embedded advertising, which arguably already violates the FCC requirement that there be a buffer between programming content and ads.

Commissioner Michael Copps certainly argued for that reading of the law. "It is my strong initial belief that embedded advertising in children’s programming is already prohibited because it would run afoul of our existing requirement that there be adequate separation between programming content and advertising," he wrote Thursday in a statement.

The vote was unanimous and commissioner Jonathan Adelstein, who has made addresing embedded advertising a priority, said the FCC action was a step in the right direction. But he would have preferred more meat in the rulemaking. "I would have liked to have gone further in asking more questions in the NPRM [notice of proposed rulemaking], rather than shunting them off to a notice of inquiry," he said. "Because an NOI cannot lead directly to rulemaking, the result may be a piecemeal approach to reforming these rules,"

Product placement on broadcast TV was up 39% to 15,404 for the top 10 shows in the first quarter of 2008, according to Nielsen, with NBC's The Biggest Loser the big winner in placements with 3,977, edging out Fox's American Idol with 3,291.