Broadcasters, advertisers oppose new product placement rules


A joint filing by a number of television, radio and advertising companies tells the FCC that no revision of the existing sponsorship identification rules is needed to deal with product placement within programming – and warns that some of the rules under consideration are unconstitutional. Taking quite the opposite view is Commercial Alert, which claims that product placement is pervasive and that sponsorship is not obvious to viewers.

A filing by a woman in Washington State complains that the FCC isn’t going far enough because the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking doesn’t address alcoholic beverage companies paying recording artists to slip their product names into songs.

Diane Martindale notes that Petey Pablo’s 2004 hip-hop hit “Freek-a-leek” was played over 350,000 times on radio stations, including his pitch for Seagram Gin, which was paying him. “Buried in a song, the public doesn’t know whether it’s a paid ad or not; they just think it’s cool,” she told the Commission.

Just how far do some activists want the FCC to go? N. E. Marsden, who is identified as an Educator and Integrated Marketing Consultant, wants broad new rules. “Sponsorship Identification rules must be applied to all telecommunications media, including broadcast television programs, origination and non-origination cable programming, music videos that are aired on broadcast and cable television, feature films shown on broadcast and cable television, and songs and discourse broadcast on the radio.” Marsden says IDing in the end credits isn’t sufficient, so sponsorship should be on a full screen at the start of any broadcast, with a button stating “Advertisement” in the corner of the screen when the product is actually shown.

The filing opposing any rule change was submitted by “The National Media Providers,” whose members cover a wide swath of the broadcasting and advertising industries: American Advertising Federation; American Association of Advertising Agencies, Association of National Advertisers; Beasley Broadcast Group, CBS Corporation; Citadel Broadcasting; Debmar-Mercury; Discovery Communications; Entercom Communications; Fox Entertainment Group; Greater Media; Journal Broadcast Group; LIN Television; Motion Picture Association of America; NBC Universal; Promotion Marketing Association; Viacom; and The Walt Disney Company.

They say the FCC’s long-standing sponsorship identification rules are sufficient. “Broadcasters have editorial discretion about precisely where, with what particular language, and in what form the sponsor identification is presented, subject to the basic obligation that they reasonably identify the commercial sponsor,” the filing stated. Nothing has changed in the 45 years the rules have been in effect, except that advertising-supported media now “face greater economic challenges in light of increasing competition and rapid technological change.” While the NPRM recognizes that product placement is a reaction to the ability of consumers to bypass traditional spots with technology, it ignores the FCC’s “long-standing recognition o fthe key role that advertising plays in maintaining the most vibrant and diverse electronic media environment in the world.”

The joint filing warns that the FCC’s authority is limited by law and that it specifically lacks any authority to extend broadcast regulations to cable television. Also, for radio and TV, “more expansive rules would also highlight the fact that broadcast regulations themselves rest on a threadbare legal fiction of spectrum scarcity.”

How do they want this to end? “The Commission should reject imposition of new requirements on sponsorship identification announcements, and should terminate the present inquiry by doing no more than clarifying how existing FCC rules, policies and examples apply to product placement,” The National Media Providers said.

Commercial Alert, however, charges that much has changed in recent years – that product placement advertisement has become “pervasive” and that viewers are “deceived into believing they are seeing authentic, non-commercial-driven presentations of products and services.” Commercial Alert is sticking with the proposal it put forth five years ago: “The Commission should issue a rule requiring disclosure of product placements and product integrations at the moment they occur.”

RBR/TVBR observation: What is striking is the wide divergence of opinion on whether this is a huge problem or something that was dealt with long ago. The broadcasters and advertising associations charge that the FCC has already made up its mind and has taken a “hostile stance” toward the whole idea of product placement. If any new rules are adopted, it’s pretty much guaranteed that the next stop is going to be the federal courts.