NBC, Telemundo to Cut Snack Ads from Educational Kids’ Shows

NBC Universal said Wednesday that its NBC and Telemundo TV stations would no longer carry local ads for "unhealthy food" during the educational kids’ TV program blocks on their 26 owned-and-operated TV stations.

NBC got a shout-out from a top legislator, who followed that with a call to other broadcasters to follow suit.

“These programming blocks on the networks’ O&Os will air free of advertising for unhealthy food and beverages,” the network said in announcing the move.

“Our recognition that obesity is a serious threat to Hispanic children’s present and long-term health has been at the forefront of our community efforts for some time,” said Ibra Morales, president of Telemundo Stations Group. He is also a member of the government-industry joint task force on media and childhood obesity. “Our ongoing efforts will continue, and now, working together with the task force, we are thrilled to take our commitment to the next level.”

qubo, which supplies those educational shows to both NBC and Telemundo stations, including the appropriately nutritionally-named Veggie Tales, already declines national advertising for snack foods, and now local ads for those foods will no longer air, either, at least on the NBC-owned stations. NBC affiliates who run the block are not part of the pledge..

An NBC spokeswoman said the company had not decided which foods ads would not make the cut, one reason the effort would not launch until June. "We will work with out partners to make that determination," said Julie Summersgill. The three-hour Saturday morning block is a co-production of  NBC U, Ion, Ion., Scholastic, Classic Media and Corus Entertainment.

Media companies have been under pressure from Washington to cut the marketing fat. House Telecommunications & Internet Subcommittee chairman Ed Markey (D-Mass.) has specifically called for cutting snack ads out of the shows that qualify for the Federal Communications Commission's educational/informational designation. Stations must run at least three hours a week of such programming.

Markey has also argued that the FCC should step in and make snack ads a disqualifying factor for the E/I designation.

The task force was originally to have reported back to Congress in July, then earlier this month, on strategies to combat obesity via changes in food marketing, but it has been delayed in part to let food and media companies announce initiative like NBC’s and because child activists had been said to be pushing for stricter measures than had been proposed.

Not surprisingly, Markey gave kudos to the network: “I commend NBC and Telemundo for being the first media companies to take this next step to protect children from unhealthy junk food ads," he told B&C in an e-mail.

" Ideally, children’s television can be an electronic oasis of educational and informational fare for kids in the otherwise vast wasteland of commercial television. Several other media companies like Disney, Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network, and Discovery Kids are also moving in the right direction and I hope they and others will follow NBC and Telemundo’s lead in taking the next step in combating the childhood obesity epidemic.”

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.