Disney Channels Set to Adopt In-House Nutrition Standards, Cutting out Major Products | Adweek
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Disney Set to Give Up a Chunk of Its CPG Business ... Sort Of

New Mouse House nutrition standards will likely affect kids' TV industry

Michelle Obama at an event introducing Disney's 'Magic of Healthy Living.' | Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

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Looks like Mickey is giving up Capri-Sun and Lunchables—but it may be its competitors who feel the pinch. The Walt Disney Co. will adopt stricter in-house nutritional standards for companies buying advertising on its radio and television networks starting in about 2015, multiple sources confirmed this morning. The Mouse made the announcement today at the White House with Michelle Obama, who has championed initiatives to combat childhood obesity.

This deal has the appearance of nobility without risking too much in lost business. The company's primary cable network, The Disney Channel, isn't ad supported, and its sister network Disney XD is much smaller. New initiative Disney Junior has a conservative ad model in which clients can sponsor a 15-second PSA and have their brands featured, but not focused on; presumably, consumer packaged goods (CPG) manufacturers advertising on the latter already conform to strict standards due to the net's audience of young children. The new guidelines apply only to programming targeted at kids under 12, so ratings juggernaut ABC Family won't be affected, either.

If the recent past is any indication, however, this move is likely to put pressure to develop similar standards on networks that actually do derive a large portion of their income from CPG makers and have much more to lose, namely Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon and The Hub, all of which are primarily ad supported. "This is not altruistic," Disney chairman Bob Iger told The New York Times. "This is about smart business.” 

In 2006, Disney announced that kids wouldn't be seeing its characters in Happy Meals any longer, and also said that it would generally try to keep its IP away from food with high salt and fat content. Within months, Nickeolodeon and Discovery Kids (now The Hub) had followed suit. Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) nutrition policy director Margo G. Wootan called on Nick and Cartoon to do as much in a statement released today. “This puts Disney ahead of the pack of media outlets and should be a wake-up call to Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network to do the same," said Wootan. "As a nation, all companies should be working toward promoting only healthy food through all forms of child-directed media.”

All told, Disney's kid-focused TV networks are set to make about $194.4 in gross ad revenue this year, according to SNL Kagan, while Nick's properties come to about 1.3 billion and Cartoon pulls in about $553.3 million. CPG comprises a significant chunk of all three numbers.

Disney's standards are "comparable" to the new nutrition standards adopted by the 16 members companies of the Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative, said Elaine Kolish, the CFBAI's vp and director (the CFBAI is a self-regulatory industry group and part of the Better Business Bureau).

A source at Nickelodeon, who asked not to be named, said that the competing kids' cabler was also concerned about childhood obesity and was confident in the CFBAI's own rubric. “The marketing partners that work with us have adopted similar uniform standards under the CFBAI that take effect a year in advance of what was announced today,” the source said.

And ultimately, it may be in the best interests of everyone involved to adopt stricter standards for food advertised on kids' programming. The FTC has been making noise for months about stricter regulations on nutritional value, specifically proposing a widened area of focus from kids 2-12 (the current ad demographic policed by the FTC) to kids 2-17. This would likely cut deep into revenues on networks like ABC Family (and of course competitors MTV and TeenNick), and was ultimately nixed, but it's only a matter of time before the next iteration of the proposal makes its way to congress, and it will help media companies' case against that plan if they're seen to be self-regulating adequately.

Disney will roll out a new "Mickey Check" product approval seal indicating that food advertised on children's programming adheres to its new standards, which are a hybrid of the federal government's Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the Federal Trade Commission’s proposed guidelines for child-friendly food marketing, among others. This link is set to go live later today with a list of the company's new standards, so check back. The new initiative will also roll back sodium levels at the food served in Disney theme parks by 25 percent.

A Kraft spokeswoman told Adweek that the company was reviewing the new Disney rules. "We haven’t done a full analysis of Disney’s new guidelines across our portfolio yet but Capri Sun 100% Juice as well as our newer product, Capri Sun Super V fruit and vegetable juice, appear to qualify," she said in an emailed statement. "Combatting obesity, particularly among children, is an effort we all need to share. Kraft Foods will continue to do its part."  

Katy Bachman contributed to this report