By John Eggerton -- 9/27/2010 12:01:00 AM
Washington — If the Federal Communications Commission decided that TV shows based on toys constitute illegal program-length commercials, the implications could be bigger than a life-sized Barbie.
It could also become a toy story with a particularly unhappy ending for cable and broadcast programmers.
The agency’s Media Bureau has scheduled a comment cycle for a petition by the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood for a declaratory ruling that Nicktoons ser ies Zevo-3 — scheduled to debut next month — is a programlength commercial, in violation of FCC rules.
The CCFC said the show amounts to a program-length commercial because it features characters originally developed by shoe manufacturer Skechers USA to promote the sale of its shoes to kids. The show is produced by Skechers Entertainment.
In a statement, Nicktoons responded, “[W]e do not believe that the show is a program-length commercial, nor do we agree that its transmission would violate the Children’s Television Act or any of the Commission’s rules or policies.”
A Nicktoons spokesperson confirmed that the network would not be airing any Skechers ads in the show, pointing out that that would be a violation of the Childrens’ Television Act.
The FCC has given interested parties until Oct. 22 to file comments and Nov. 8 to file replies.
Historically, the FCC has applied the program-length commercial definition to kids’ shows that feature ads for a product within a show that depicts a character associated with it, not to shows based on a toy or whose characters become popular toys after the fact.
For example, the FCC ruled that an ad featuring a brief glimpse of a Pokémon character that aired during an episode of Pokémon turned the cartoon show into a commercial.
A declaratory ruling that shows based on toys were in themselves program-length commercials would bring such shows as G.I. Joe or My Little Pony into play, and raise questions about the TV airings of movies like Transformers or perhaps even Toy Story. Discovery Communications, in conjunction with toymaker and producer Hasbro, is converting the Discovery Kids channel into The Hub on Oct. 10, with plans for a show based on Transformers and adaptations of G.I. Joe and My Little Pony.
Another issue: Whether the full-length commercial tag should be applied to shows that became toy marketing engines after the fact, due to the popularity of their characters.
“Just because there is a character in a program that initially originated as a toy, does not transform the program into a program-length commercial or a commercial at all,” Association of National Advertisers executive vice president Dan Jaffe said. “To ban or severely restrict these programs if they don’t have an explicit selling message would be censorship of noncommercial speech that has the highest level of First Amendment protection.”
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