WGA likens product integration to paid programming

by Paul William Tenny

Apple laptop on Fox's 24Gone are the days that producers would go to great lengths to avoid having a recognizable product or brand show up in their shows for fear of being sued by companies that don't want to be associated with certain programs. You may see the text on a tee-shirt or hat blurred out still, but now it's far more likely that you'll see it placed front and center on network television. Sitcom characters (for what few sitcoms are left) don't just eat pizza, they eat Dominoes with the box always closed so you can see the logo and name on the top.
There have even been ridiculous instances where an entire sitcom plot will revolve around going to see a movie, one that happens to really exist, is about to be released in theaters, and is owned by the same company that owns the show or network.

It's good money for the suits but really grates on creative talent that feel like their shows are being transformed into stealthy paid programming, and the Writers Guild of America wants the FCC to force networks to disclaim such integrations in real time:

In a letter to FCC chair Kevin Martin on Tuesday, 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.

Product integration is gaining such momentum that networks are thinking of creating entire series that revolve around products, giving us a true hybrid of paid and fictional scripted programming that really just makes me want to vomit. While the networks have every right to try it, viewers also have the right to stop watching television at a time when people are tuning out at record levels.

Whether it be an audible disclaimer that airs before the program beings, or as WGA President Patric Verrone suggested -- a news crawler or ticker of some sort to point out product integration -- I don't believe the WGA will find much sympathy from a disturbingly pro-corporate FCC, even if doing so might actually help the networks in the long run by bringing viewers back instead of driving them away.

There have been other experiments by the big four networks in the last couple of years, such as using a single high-paying sponsor over the course of an entire episode -- typically a highly rated show's season premier -- in order to have fewer commercial breaks, but greater exposure for a single sponsor.

What effect such experiments have had is unknown, but it is very doubtful that simply cramming more advertisements into TV shows is going to stem the receding viewership tide now or ever.
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