FCC Looks at Product Placements

Responding to calls from special interest groups, the FCC will begin an investigation of product placements in TV shows, the Wall Street Journal reports. As the Journal points out, an increasing number of viewers are using DVRs to record shows and skip over commercials, reducing the customer-reaching potential of TV ads. Advertisers are increasingly turning to product placement to keep up.

If advertisers could no longer make money off of television, then the era of free or low-cost TV would end. Every channel would have to be treated like HBO, a premium channel for which cable subscribers must generally pay extra. No channels would be broadcast freely for just anyone to pick up.

Luckily, the FCC’s proposed rules would not ban product placements – but they would unnecessarily detract from the viewing experience and eat up valuable air time. Apparently, “regulators are mostly interested in improving the amount of disclosure advertisers and producers will have to provide for consumers during the TV programs.” The FCC might make TV shows give “notices similar to what political candidates must say before or after campaign ads.” The Journal quotes Democratic Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein as saying, “You shouldn’t need a magnifying glass to know who’s pitching you.”

Interestingly, you don’t. If you’re watching an episode of The Office and Michael Scott is talking about his new Blackberry, it’s a pretty safe bet that RIM paid to put that bit in there. (Which, by the way, explains why our favorite Food Network shows go to great lengths to hide or blur those food labels and KitchenAid logos – the companies did not pay Food Network to have their logos displayed.) In fact, noticing the company paying for the ad is sort of the point of product placement. If you don’t notice the Coke mugs in front of the American Idol judges – or if you don’t recognize that they’re Coca-Cola – then the placement has failed.

Adelstein appears worried that stupid viewers will be hoodwinked into going on a vacation at a Sandals resort because they thought that the loveable/hateable boss on their favorite situation comedy went there and got a scandalous picture taken with his boss/girlfriend, Jan. But if only the gullible public knew that this did not in fact actually occur and that Sandals has paid for such a lie (cloaked under the deceitful label of “fiction”), then viewers would not be so easily manipulated! Please.