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Congressmen Tackle Product Placement

By Ira Teinowitz
TV Week


Warning that increasing use of product placement and product integration are “blurring” the line between TV ads and TV content, two congressional committee chairmen are calling on the Federal Communications Commission to do more to make sure viewers know what they are seeing.

“In our view, the blurring of the line between advertising and content represented by product placement and integration is unfair and deceptive if it occurs without adequate disclosures to the viewing public,” U.S. Reps. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., and Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., said today in a letter to FCC Chairman Kevin Martin. “In some extreme cases, it may also undermine the integrity of the television programming itself.”

Rep. Waxman is chairman of the House Oversight & Government Reform Committee; Rep. Markey chairs the House Energy & Commerce Committee’s telecom committee.

Rep. Markey’s committee in May held a hearing on issues around product placement and product integration and heard testimony on pressure on writers and producers to weave mentions of products into shows.

Mr. Martin last week, during an FCC media ownership hearing in Chicago, said he had asked other FCC commissioners to initiate a look into issues of product integration into programming. He suggested DVRs and TiVos may be prompting networks to look at more subtle and sophisticated means of inserting commercial messages and cited growing concern that the agency's sponsorship rules weren't providing adequate disclosure of placement.

Mr. Martin said he has asked other commissioners to initiate a rulemaking that would seek comment about whether the FCC's existing sponsorship identification rules need to be amended because of increasing industry reliance on embedded advertising techniques to ensure adequate disclosure to the public.

The committee chairmen in today's letter said they didn't feel the FCC had made enough progress since the hearing in addressing some of the issues raised at the hearing

“We believe the commission should examine the growth in product placement and product integration and how this trend affects the overall composition and nature of television programming. As part of this inquiry, the commission should also review the criteria broadcasters and cable operators currently use to distinguish between commercial and creative content,” said the letter.

The two urged Mr. Martin to do a thorough review of sponsorship disclosure requirements. They said any review should include an examination of whether “rules sufficiently achieve the statutory requirement to inform the viewing public of the actual products being sponsored in a show as well as the entity that paid for such sponsorship.”

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