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WGA Pushes Branded Integration Identification

Writers Guild of America West president Patric Verrone wants the Federal Communications Commission to force television networks to clearly disclose to viewers when shows include branded integrations.

Verrone, who was re-elected to his position earlier this week, testified Thursday night at an FCC media-ownership hearing in Chicago.

Verrone said he is not attacking product placement, where a branded product simply acts as a prop, but embedded advertising, where "the wacky next-door neighbor announces that this week he is a bottled-water salesman and extols the crisp refreshing taste of that particular brand of water."

"When writers are told that we must incorporate a commercial product into the story lines we’ve written, we cease to be creators," he said."We become advertisers ourselves. Actors are subjected to forced endorsement when their character must shill the products without compensation or consultation. Consumers are required to watch commercial messages that are no longer identified as commercial messages. And in our experience people want (and deserve) to be told when they are being sold."

Verrone said the FCC needs to step in to help viewers navigate the increasingly brand-heavy programming landscape.

“We believe that, in order to protect viewers, there has to be disclosure that adequately reveals product integration," he added. "The FCC should require a crawl to run at the bottom of the screen during the integration that would identify the product, its promoter and the fact that the writers and actors do not personally endorse the product’s use."

That came the same day Nielsen released data showing that plugs had proliferated in broadcast TV in the first half of 2007, although more than one-quarter of the total were attributable to one show, American Idol.

Verrone also put in a plug, as he has before, for a set-aside of network programming time for independent programmers.

At the hearing, FCC chairman Kevin Martin said he had already circulated a proposal to the other commissioners to revisit the FCC's sponsorship-identification rules to see if they needed to be amended to better identify advertisers in TV programming -- a change Democratic FCC commissioner Jonathan Adelstein has been pushing for.

It was the second time Verrone had weighed in on consolidation at an FCC ownership hearing.

It has been a busy week for the WGA, which Wednesday went back to the negotiating table with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers.