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Groups Respond to FCC’s Sponsorship-ID NPRM

Groups pushing for tighter Federal Communications Commission rules on identifying product placements praised the FCC's decision to take some action but continued to push it to require programmers to identify a plug on-screen at the time of its appearance, which would essentially take the "seamless" out of "seamless integration."

The FCC proposed standardizing the type size and duration of on-screen sponsorship identifications, but it went no further, although it sought comment on a host of other issues.

In response to the FCC's notice of proposed rulemaking on sponsorship identification Thursday, the Writers Guild of America West did just that, applauding the FCC but urging it again to require "real-time" disclosure "whenever a product is being mentioned, referred to and/or exhibited -- "again" because only days before, the guild's president, Patric Verrone, wrote FCC chairman Kevin Martin to ask for real-time labeling in the form of a crawl across the bottom of the screen.

That would mean virtually constant disclosures on a show like American Idol.

Free Press policy director Ben Scott joined Verrone's call for crawls Friday, saying that he, too, believed that the FCC "should seriously consider" real-time disclosure on-screen. Free Press also pushed the commission on the issue, warning of "Trojan Horse" advertising.

While Scott said it would give viewers a "clear understanding" of what they are watching, it might give them a less-clear view added to the icons and promos that now pop up like, well, pop-up ads, during entertainment programming as programmers look for ways to TiVo-proof their messages.

In fact, Martin pointed to the tech-savvy TV viewer as one of the arguments for updating its sponsorship ID rules. "TiVos and digital-video recorders now allow viewers to more easily skip commercials," he 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 ... I believe it is important for consumers to know when someone is trying to sell them something."

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 Idol with 3,291.