Product Placement: Free Speech Or A Threat To Our Children?

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Product Placement: Free Speech Or A Threat To Our Children?

Tue Nov 25, 2008 @ 09:32PM PST

By Eriq Gardner

Idolcoke It's hard to turn on a television these days and not see some form of integrated advertising. As consumers use DVRs to zap through 30-second commercial spots, broadcasters have reacted by giving advertisers a prominent place within the content of shows.

"The Apprentice," "American Idol," any show on Bravo, even sitcoms like "30 Rock" are product placement gaga. NBC recently let brands become part of the development process in the creation of new shows. Nielsen initiated tracking product placement. Is there an end?

A new consumer movement is emerging to pressure the FCC to take a stronger hand in regulating integrated advertising. This past summer, 23 groups sent a joint letter to FCC chairman Kevin Martin urging him to acknowledge a problem. Now, one group is pressing serious action.

The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood has filed a propose change with the FCC that would bar broadcasters from embedding advertising in any show whose primary audience is children and any primetime show where children may be watching. As one example, the group wants those Coke and Ford plugs on American Idol to end.

The primary legal question entails a debate between free speech and misleading promotion. Broadcasters argue that integrated advertising is protected by the First Amendment while many of these advocacy groups point to consumer protection laws that guard against false advertising. Should be an interesting issue to watch over the next few years. Even if CCFC doesn't get everything they want, it might be able to push the television industry to at least accept much more disclosure.

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The Hollywood Reporter, Esq. blog focuses on how the entertainment and media industries are impacted and influenced by the law. It is edited by Matthew Belloni with contributions from veteran legal reporter Eriq Gardner and others. Before joining The Hollywood Reporter, Belloni was a lawyer at an entertainment litigation firm in Los Angeles. He writes a column for THR devoted to entertainment law. Gardner is a New York-based writer and legal journalist. Send tips or comments to Matthew.Belloni@thr.com

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