FCC Considers New Rules Against Embedded Advertising

A stealthy form of advertising in which products are featured on television shows as props and even woven into story lines is drawing the government's attention.

The Federal Communications Commission said Thursday it will consider new rules to make it clear to viewers when brand-name products appear in shows in exchange for money.

Spending on so-called "embedded advertising" has grown as advertisers look for new ways to reach viewers who flip channels during commercials or use digital video recorders like TiVo to fast-forward past them.

In an order to be released Thursday, the agency will consider whether to require sponsorship identification notices to be in larger type, appear for a longer period on the screen or to appear at both the beginning and the end of programs.

The commission will also consider tightening up sponsorship rules regarding children's programming and whether to extend the disclosure requirements to cable, according to FCC Chairman Kevin Martin.

The issue of product placement, in which brand name items are used as props in shows, is not new and has not generated much controversy. It is the practice of insinuating products into actual plot lines, known as "product integration," that has raised concern.

For example, episodes of the family-oriented show "7th Heaven" included plot lines revolving around Oreo cookies. Other examples cited by critics of the practice include episodes of "The Office" in which characters work at a Staples office supply store; a "CSI" show in which characters promote features of a General Motors vehicle; and a "Smallville" episode in which the dialogue included the line "Acuvue to the rescue," a reference to the contact lens maker.

The FCC scheduled a vote on rules for embedded advertising at a commission meeting more than six months ago, but the item was pulled from the agenda following pressure by the advertising industry. The probe announced Thursday may lead to new rules, but is not as tough as the previous proposal.