November 24th, 2008

CCFC Wants FCC To Ban Product Placement In Kids Shows, Limit In Primetime

By John Eggerton
Broadcasting & Cable

Says embedded advertising is misleading speech and thus deserves "no First Amendment protection"

The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC) wants the FCC to explicitly ban product placement in kids shows and limit it in primetime, saying embedded advertising is misleading speech, and thus deserves “no First Amendment protection.”

That came in a filing with the FCC, which is considering possible changes to its policies on embedded advertising and sponsorship identification.

“Not only does the use of embedded advertising in television programming fail to provide any useful consumer information about a product, it is misleading because the very success of embedded advertising is predicated on obscuring the commercial message altogether,” the group argues.

Broadcasters have argued just the opposite, that the speech is fully protected because it is so inextricably intertwined with the programming that it is not actually advertising but part of the “expressive” speech of the program content.

Broadcasters do not oppose clarifying that product placements are off limits in kids shows, but CCFC also wants limits in primetime, arguing that a lot of kids watch those shows. For example, CCFC points out, 2 million kids ages 2-11 watch American Idol each week, a show that is filled with plugs for Coke and Ford. “[B]ecause children watch a significant amount of programming that falls outside of the narrow definition of children’s programming, CCFC encourages the FCC to protect children from misleading embedded advertising techniques by limiting their use during those hours of primetime broadcast programming when children are likely to be in the audience.” the group said in its filing. That would mean limits in the 8-10 p.m. hour, given the FCC’s definition of 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. as the period in which kids are most likely to be watching.

It is unclear whether the FCC will take any action on the embedded advertising review before the administration change in January. FCC Chairman stil has two scheduled meetings--in December and January, but neither agenda has been released.

Dubbing themselves National Media Providers (NPM), the broadcast networks, advertisers and some station groups essentially told the FCC two weeks ago to leave well enough alone. The coalition says new rules are unnecessary, could prove economically harmful as the economy is tanking, and might violate the First Amendment.

The FCC has been collecting comment on proposed changes to its 70-plus-year-old sponsorship-identification rules to reflect the rise of video-news releases, product placement and product integration.

Broadcasters and advertisers argue that in a TiVo world of hundreds of channels, the 30-second commercial just doesn’t cut it anymore. 

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