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Ads in TV Shows Come Under Microscope

FCC announces new plans to examine product placement.

ByABC News
June 27, 2008, 1:57 PM

June 27, 2008— -- "American Idol" judges sip from Coca-Cola cups. The folks on "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" take a trip to Wendy's. As time-strapped television viewers increasingly zip past ads using digital video recorders, broadcasters try to pay the bills by sneaking advertisements for products into reality shows and sitcoms alike.

"This often subtle but always insidious blurring of the line between content and commerce is an issue not just for the creative community but for the American viewing public as well," said Writer's Guild member Philip Rosenthal, creator and executive producer of "Everybody Loves Raymond," while testifying before Congress on the topic last year.

It's a practice the Federal Communications Commission is now looking into. The FCC Thursday said it would open an investigation into the use of undisclosed paid product placements in broadcast TV shows. The FCC also proposed using a larger font size for its disclosure requirement and requiring that the disclosures air for a certain period of time.

"I believe it is important for consumers to know when someone is trying to sell them something," FCC Chairman Kevin Martin said Thursday.

According to the Nielsen Co.'s media research, prime-time product placements on broadcast networks rose 39 percent in the first three months of this year, from the comparable period in 2007. There were more than 117,000 brand occurrences on cable and broadcast networks in January, February and March of 2008, Nielsen found.

The trend has prompted consumer groups to push the FCC to investigate product placement and integration. The Writer's Guild of America-West, a group of 7,500 television, film and new media members, also hopes the FCC will re-examine the issue.

The Writer's Guild has asked the FCC to make new rules to eliminate the practice entirely in news and children's programming, and to ensure that product placement arrangements are disclosed in other broadcast television programs in specific ways.