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WGA Blasts Hidden Integration

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LOS ANGELES The Writers Guild of America West has called for the Federal Communications Commission to establish guidelines that require on-screen "real-time" disclosure when placement or integration of a product on a TV show occurs.

In a letter to FCC chair Kevin Martin this week, WGAW president Patric Verrone said the guild believes "broadcasters must adequately disclose the products that are integrated into a story in order to insure that viewers know they are watching a paid advertisement."

The letter comes after The Wall Street Journal reported the FCC would open formal proceedings on the issue this week, looking at whether programs should insert notices similar to those seen in political candidate campaign ads.

The FCC's rule-making committee can "serve to protect writers and other creative talent from the adverse effects of product integration," Verrone said. "When writers are told we must incorporate a commercial product into the story lines we have written, we cease to be creators. Instead, we run the risk of alienating an audience that expects compelling television, not commercials."

Verrone also urged the FCC to look into video news releases, or VNRs, that are increasingly being used on local broadcast TV. VNRs are clips paid for and developed by advertisers or companies and sold to broadcasters to be played on nightly news broadcasts.

Product placement and integration was a central issue during the recent writers strike. The WGA's new contract indicates the company will "consult with the showrunners when a commercial product is to be integrated into the story line of an episode of a dramatic series."

The FCC is not looking into banning such practice, but rather how to notify viewers of the placement or integration of a product.

Verrone suggests a crawl at the bottom of the screen, similar to what news networks use to announce news, sports scores, weather and stock information.

Advertising industry groups, including the Association of National Advertisers, have voiced opposition to further disclosure, indicating the FCC already has in place ways for paid advertisers to make paid placement or integration obvious.