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TV Writers Want FCC to Expand Definition of Kids' Programming

John Eggerton
Multichannel News
October 20, 2009

TV writers want the Federal Communications Commission to expand its definition of children's programming as it prepares to rethink its kids TV rules, and imbedded advertising guidelines, in the digital age.

In a meeting two weeks ago with FCC chairman Julius Genachowski and top staffers, Writers Guild of America West members lead by John Wells (ER, West Wing), said that kids watch plenty of primetime programming that remains "chock full" of imbedded advertising.

FCC chairman Julius Genachowksi said last week that the proposed inquiry into those kids TV rules, including limits on children's advertising, has been circulated among the commissioners and should be voted on soon. The commission also has an open inquiry -- dating back more than a year -- on how changes to its product placement disclosure rules.

Citing American Idol and its large contingent of both young viewers and Coke plugs, Wells and company "humbly requested" that the chairman "consider a broader definition of  'children's programming' as the commission contemplates formal rules, according to a disclosure form filed with the FCC by the union.

More broadly, the writers came equipped with examples of the growing use of embedded advertising techniques, including on-screen scrolls like the Captain Morgan Rum crawl on TBS during MLB playoff coverage.

They cautioned that the rise of DVRs, with their ad-skipping capabilities, will only make advertisers and networks "more aggressive" in their ad embedding stategies.

"Arguments for stricter rules for embedded advertising imply there is an underlying harm simply because a product appears in the show," said Adonis Hoffman, senior vice president and counsel, American Association of Advertising Agencies. "We cannot forget the guidance the Federal Trade Commission provided on this issue when it ruled that when a product merely appears in the content without making a claim it is little more than a prop."

"If more clarification is needed, a statement at the end (or even the beginning of a program) noticing that some 'props' in the show were paid for, would seem to address the issue of transparency. Beyond that, there remains the issue of harm. Thus far, no one has made a clear or compelling case that consumers are harmed by products merely appearing in the content."





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