FCC Tackles Product Plugs

Could launch crackdown on paid item displays
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The FCC is preparing to crack down on product integration in TV shows.

The FCC's December meeting includes a proposal seeking information on how and where to put on-air disclosures for products for which advertisers pay to be worked into the plotlines of shows, according to sources who have seen the tentative agenda.

Product integration is distinguished from product placement, where a product might be used as a prop. For example, Everybody Loves Raymond creator/executive producer Phil Rosenthal told a Hill hearing audience earlier this year about Seventh Heaven episode in which Oreos were repeatedly mentioned by name and even featured in a marriage proposal in which the ring was embedded in Oreo cream filling.

The commission isn't proposing exactly what to do, said the sources, but the item, which is expected to pass with the help of commission Democrats, would signal the FCC is serious about taking some action.

Democratic Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein in particular has pushed hard for better disclosure of paid and outside material used in broadcasts, including video news releases and paid product plugs, but Chairman Kevin Martin had also pledged to look into it. The issue was also raised in public hearings on media ownership rules.

Industry lobbyists will meet with FCC officials about the issue over the next couple of weeks. They are looking to avoid disclosures that would break up the flow of a show, such as a crawl across the bottom of that Seventh Heaven episode pointing out that Nabisco had paid for the Oreo placement.

Product integration was among a half-dozen media items circulated among the other FCC commissioners by Chairman Martin. None are a lock to make the final cut, which is released publicly before the Dec. 18 meeting and could be pulled after that as well.

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