Fake TV News
To promote its state insurance program, Oklahoma is paying $3.1 million over three years to local media company Griffin Communications. Griffin's bid for the state contract touted its "built-in network of companies to deliver the message," including television stations KWTV in Oklahoma City and KOTV and KQCW in Tulsa, and the 34 stations of the Radio Oklahoma Network. The Insure Oklahoma campaign spokesperson is former KWTV reporter Angela Buckelew, who "appears during news programming" on KWTV, KOTV and KQCW.
Local television stations are increasingly open to product placement. The Meredith Corporation's "syndicated hour-long lifestyle program 'Better' (named in part after the company's Better Homes & Gardens magazine)" includes space for local stations to add in sponsored segments.
Fake news isn't just for TV newscasts anymore. "The Web's evolving ability to tap niche audiences is expanding the scope of guaranteed placement," or paying to place PR videos. "For our Web distribution, we guarantee placement on major news sites, including Google News [and] MSN," explained PR executive Doug Simon.
When television stations take the "'quick and dirty' route to health news coverage" by airing sponsored videos produced by public relations firms or other companies, it's a real problem, writes journalism professor Gary Schwitzer. For example, Ivanhoe Broadcast News (which was mentioned in the Center for Media and Democracy's "Fake TV News" report) puts out "single source stories with one spokesman from one institution touting one idea," complete with PR contacts.
A consumer group filed a complaint against the medical device company Medtronic, because an online video promoting one of the company's products "did not make consumers aware of the risks, warnings, precautions or side effects" associated with the product. The video, which was posted to the YouTube website, was produced for Medtronic by the broadcast PR firm VNR-1 Communications.
One of my favorite critiques of our ad-saturated modern world is in "Infinite Jest," the epic novel by recently-departed author and essayist David Foster Wallace. In the novel's not-too-distant future, time itself has become a corporate marketing opportunity. There's the Year of the Trial-Size Dove Bar and the Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment. That's not to mention the Year of the Yushityu 2007 Mimetic-Resolution-Cartridge-View-Motherboard-Easy-To-Install-Upgrade For Infernatron/InterLace TP Systems For Home, Office, Or Mobile, which is often abbreviated.
The novel's system of Subsidized Time is hilarious ... and you can almost imagine it really happening. At least corporate-sponsored years wouldn't present the disclosure problems of today's stealth ads -- marketing messages that masquerade as entertainment or news content.
The Center for Media and Democracy believes that all advertising should be as clearly announced as the Year of the Trial-Size Dove Bar. That's why we just filed a comment with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The FCC is debating how its sponsorship identification rules apply to product placement, product integration and other types of "embedded advertising" relayed over television or radio stations.
In 2003, Commercial Alert urged the FCC to address product placement disclosure. "Advertisers can puff and tout, and use all the many tricks of their trade," the watchdog group wrote (pdf). "But they must not pretend that their ads are something else."
Especially, we would add, when that "something else" is news programming.
Faced with "public complaints about its new drilling in an urban area" -- Fort Worth, Texas -- the natural gas company Chesapeake Energy is about to launch its own "brand-new media source," Shale.tv. The online video channel will be produced by "three Dallas-area former journalists," and is named after the Barnett Shale natural gas formation in North Texas.