ANA Warns FCC Against Push For Ad Ratings

Dan Jaffe of ANA The Association of National Advertisers is urging the Federal Communications Commission to disavow a push for content ratings for TV commercials, arguing that regulations exist that allow for content control of programming, making new regulations redundant, and that the move could have a severe negative economic impact.

The FCC wants viewers to be able to block advertising they deem inappropriate. In 2000, it required all new television sets 13 inches or larger to contain a V-chip, a device that lets viewers block television programming. The new motion, part of the Child Safe Viewing Act of 2007, would focus on advertising exclusively.

The ANA -- representing some 350 companies and 9,000 brands, or over $100 billion in marketing yearly in the U.S. -- has filed a strong opinion on this development as part of the FCC's Notice of Inquiry, which will be part of a report submitted to Congress under the Child Safe Viewing Act of 2007 on the issue of content blocking.



In its filing, the ANA says such ratings are unnecessary and redundant because blocking programs effectively blocks all advertising on those programs and would also undermine the economic basis for commercial TV, including cable and satellite programming.

The FCC says the average American child is exposed to 25 hours of television each week and some children are exposed to as much as 11 hours a day -- and cites studies showing that children exposed to violent video programming at a young age have a higher tendency for violent and aggressive behavior later in life.

Dan Jaffe, EVP of government relations for the ANA, says that by mulling ratings for ads, the FCC is wandering into constitutionally questionable and economically dangerous territory. "[The FCC] is suggesting going beyond issues of indecency and violence; right now, ratings-based blocking technology applies only to programming."

In the past, "the FCC said explicitly that [ratings] should not be extended to advertising," he says. "And Congress said that when the FCC does this analysis, they should not do something that affects the economic foundations of broadcasting. If you independently rate advertising, it will dry up the income stream because advertisers won't advertise where people aren't watching the ads."

"The FCC itself stated that by rating programs you are, to a substantial extent, taking care of the problems associated with inappropriate ads," Jaffe says. If, after the FCC reviews the filings from the ANA and others, the commission goes forward with legislative efforts to block ads, he says, "there would be very significant constitutional issues, particularly since they are now suggesting they may also restrict ads in non-children programming."

Jaffe warns that since the FCC is also looking at product placement -- something brands have done to side-step TiVo-type devices -- it could leave advertisers few real options. "Advertising isn't on the air just for people to have something to look at when they come home; the ads are there for a reason," he says. "It's the expectation that someone is going to see them. The richest man in the world 40 years ago couldn't get what today's consumer -- rich or poor -- can get now, and that's all being paid for by advertising."

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