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UK Gets Tough On Junk-Food Ads

Spots are banned in shows popular with kids under 16

The United Kingdom is banning all TV ads for foods high in fat, salt or sugar in programming aimed at kids and teenagers under 16. The move could accelerate a push for tougher restrictions in the U.S.

The British Office of Communications (called Ofcom), which is similar to the U.S. Federal Communications Commission, said Friday it will use nutritional guidelines created by its Food Standards Agency. The action will undoubtedly unnerve American fast-food and junk-food advertisers, which have come under increasing pressure by consumer groups and nutritionists.

U.S. food marketers last week adopted their own voluntary standards to promote healthier eating (see p.22). Ofcom’s restrictions ban junk-food ads “in and around all programs of particular appeal to children under the age of 16 broadcast at any time of day or night.” That would include primetime showings of The Simpsons and the U.K’s replay of American Idol. Ofcom also will ban the use of celebrities or licensed characters, like cartoon figures, from kids ads and product placements.

The new rules will begin in the next two months on general channels and will be phased in over two years on children’s channels. Ofcom says the ads constitute about 15% of total annual revenues for British channels.

Adonis Hoffman, senior VP, American Association of Advertising Agencies, says the decision “does not bode well for global advertisers, who will be required to speak—or in this case, not to speak—to British audiences in much different ways. In effect, the British government has just removed access to its market for an entirely legal product.”

No such laws are needed here, and courts would likely thwart any attempt, says Hoffman: Food companies’ “pro-active self-regulation obviates the need for any government regulation.” (See related Airtime, p. 26)

News Corp. Names New Digital Chief

News Corp. tapped Peter Levinsohn to become president of Fox Interactive Media. He replaces current President Ross Levinsohn, who resigned as the company moves to focus on steadying its digital efforts internally, rather than making acquisitions.

Peter Levinsohn, an 18-year Fox veteran, comes to his new role from his post as president of digital media for the Fox Entertainment Group, a position he has held since 2004. Over the past couple of years, he has overseen deals to digitally distribute Fox’s content onto new platforms, such as iTunes.

Ross Levinsohn has overseen News Corp.’s digital strategy for the past year, including the $650 million acquisition of MySpace.com and the $650 million acquisition of videogame network IGN.com. He is a distant cousin of Peter’s.

Anne Becker

Showtime Rolls More 'Weeds’

Calling it the centerpiece of its comedy strategy for the near future, cable net Showtime has greenlighted 15 new episodes of critically acclaimed Weeds.

Weeds, Showtime’s most-watched comedy, is about a pot-selling suburban mom, played by Emmy-winner Mary-Louise Parker.

The show, which resumes production in the spring for its third season, is produced by Lionsgate, in association with Tilted Productions.—John Eggerton

Verizon, Rainbow Strike Sports Deal

Verizon and Rainbow Media have struck a deal in New York and New England for carriage of Rainbow’s MSG Network, FSN New England Network and FSN New England in high-definition on Verizon’s FiOS TV video service.

Also as part of the deal, FiOS will carry Rainbow’s AMC, WE TV, IFC and fuse, as well as on-demand Mag Rack and sportskool.

The agreement also settled a program-access complaint Verizon had filed with the FCC against Cablevision and Rainbow. Verizon had charged that it had been denied the sports nets unlawfully and that Cablevision/Rainbow had refused to negotiate.

But with the deal in hand, Verizon told the FCC it is dropping the complaint.—John Eggerton

NFL Sues Comcast Over Placement

In its struggle to secure wide carriage of a controversial package of football games, NFL Network has sued to force Comcast to carry the channel on a wider tier.

Industry executives familiar with the suit—filed under seal in New York State last month and only disclosed this week—say it focuses narrowly on how Comcast is slotting the network on systems it acquired from Adelphia Communications and Time Warner this summer. But it points more broadly to the NFL’s quest to recover its massive $2.4 billion investment in NFL Network. NFL declined to comment on the suit. —John M. Higgins

Advertisers Vow Better Mix On Kids Food Spots

Advertisers representing two thirds of TV food- and beverage-ad expenditures targeted to children under 12 have agreed to commit 50% of their media budgets to spots for foods meeting government standards for healthy products or to spots that include messages encouraging healthier lifestyles.

The commitments were announced by the Council of Better Business Bureaus and its National Advertising Review Council of an effort to limit marketing to children in the wake of the growing childhood obesity problem.

Advertisers also agreed to limit ads with licensed characters, better label “advergaming,” and limit marketing in schools. The Council promises to monitor compliance.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest was quick to criticize the initiative, pointing out that the companies could still market the same foods so long as they included a message about healthier foods or exercise.

Lee Peeler, president of the National Advertising Review Council, said that, while the effort may not be everything the Center wanted, it was a “major step forward” and a “major recognition of concerns that have been voiced.”

To that end, the groups also have revamped the children’s ad guidelines for its Children’s Advertising Review Unit (CARU), which is the self-regulating body for kids advertisers. Under the new guidelines, CARU will look at advertising that is “unfair” as well as misleading, which will include the blurring of advertising and content and the use of advertising in online games.

The National Advertising Review Council board will look further into product placement and the marketing of ringtones. The charter companies are Cadbury Schweppes USA, Campbell Soup, Coca-Cola Co., General Mills, Hershey, Kellogg, Kraft, McDonald’s, PepsiCo and Unilever. —John Eggerton

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