It’s always interesting when broadcasting “inside baseball” gets an airing outside the trades, and that has now happened with product placement. The New York Times took a look at the ever-growing ad category, designed to combat the audience-eroding effects of DVR time-shifting and general remote-control-enabled channel surfing, both of which often give the heave-ho to the traditional commercials that pay the freight for the entertainment programming. NYT quoted FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein, who says there is no problem with the practice of embedded advertising, as long as its presence is properly disclosed. And therein lays the rub. Whether that happens before or after the show, or as an on-screen crawl at the precise time an embedded product is shown or discussed, is a matter under consideration at the FCC right now.
Advertisers especially want to avoid the latter scenario as entirely disruptive to the flow of entertainment; they and others question whether citizens need to be told that certain products appear on screen as the result of a transaction between the producer and advertiser, suggesting most can figure that out for themselves. However, consumer advocates and the script-writing community adamantly oppose the practice and want full disclosure.
RBR/TVBR observation: On the off chance you were hoping that the First Amendment will come to the rescue of those who would place products into entertainment programming, fuggeddaboudit. It is a well established fact that advertising speech is not nearly as free as a citizen’s everyday ordinary speech. Our bet is that as the practice becomes ever more common, regulators will not be able to resist adding sponsorship ID requirements. The advertising community may fight the imposition of any requirements whatsoever, but it should be thinking long and hard about where acceptable fallback positions exist in the compromise zone, because we may get there sooner rather than later.