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WGA West Weighs In on Product Integration

The Writers Guild of America West spelled out to Federal Communications Commission chairman Kevin Martin what it wants the FCC to do about product integration and related issues.

That came in a letter from WGAW president Patric Verrone to Martin, prompted by the reports, confirmed by a well-placed FCC source, that the FCC will soon be releasing its long-delayed notice or proposed rulemaking on product integration.

Verrone wants the FCC to require "real time" on-screen disclosure on TV shows where products have been integrated, as well as an "immediate end" to video-news releases on local news broadcasts.

The disclosure would be in the form of a clearly readable crawl across the bottom of the screen, preferably including the nature of the product and the parent company, although not a logo or product-related graphic (which could turn the crawl into a plug itself).

Verrone and Everybody Loves Raymond creator Phil Rosenthal both testified on the issue in Congress and at FCC field hearings on localism and media ownership.

Verrone explained to Martin the reason why writers are so strongly opposed to product integration: "When writers are told that we must incorporate a commercial product into the story lines we have written, we cease to be creators. Instead, we run the risk of alienating an audience that expects compelling television, not commercials."

In his FCC testimony last year, Rosenthal used the example of an Oreo that was integrated into a Seventh Heaven episode, including a marriage proposal in which the ring was embedded in the cookie's cream filling.

Verrone was equally exercised about VNRs. "The WGAW urges the FCC to take immediate action to end the use of VNRs on broadcast news," he told Martin. "This practice is unbelievably deceptive and is an attempt to trick the viewer to think that a paid advertisement is actually news."

Martin initially had an item on product integration slated for a December 2007 public meeting, but it was pulled at the last minute from a meeting dominated by its vote on media-ownership rules and related items.

The issue has heated up lately, with children’s advocates writing Martin last week asking for similar action.