Nickelodeon's Nicktoons says it doesn't violate the Children's Television Act when it comes to a proposed animated show coming next month called "Zevo-3."
So, for all intents and purposes, the network believes it can air as many advertising-message laden TV shows that it wants, including "Zevo-3," where animated characters represent different models of Skechers kids' footwear.
How can this be? Because the Federal Communications Commission rule is an old and fuzzy one.
The key difference, according to the Campaign for Commercial-Free Childhood, which petitioned the FCC about the show, is that the Skechers' branded products are now "spokespeople" -- talking animated characters -- rather than just inanimate products like toys.
The group also claims the show will violate the requirement in the Children's Television Act that "no cable operator" shall air more than 10.5 minutes of commercial matter per hour during children's programming on weekends, and 12 minutes per hour on weekdays.
Ah ha! That "commercial matter" may pertain to actual commercials. But that's the fuzzy part -- especially when these animated superheroes are also part of the show's content -- product placement, as it can be claimed.
According to an FCC Web site in reference to the Children's Television Act: "To avoid being considered a program-length commercial, commercial material related to a children's program must be separated from that program by intervening and unrelated program material." That doesn't sound too good for Nicktoons.
Back in the early 1990s, Kraft's Macaroni and Cheese product was to feature an animated character, Cheesasaurus Rex, a cheese-colored dinosaur, which happened to be the product's mascot. An entrepreneurial TV syndicator/programmer thought to run it as a syndication TV show. The FCC put the kibosh on that effort.
Many FCC rules don't pertain to cable networks. That's why Comedy Central can run stuff like "South Park," with some of its language issues. That's why you can find certain dramas on TNT and FX and other cable networks spewing similar content. People forget that. For the most part, cable networks want to act like the bigger TV broadcast networks, all to get the bigger TV advertiser/marketers media dollars.
But Nickelodeon doesn't have this problem. It commands over 50% of the kids' TV viewing business, with all the TV marketing revenues that accompany that. So one wonders why it needs to head into this quasi-touchy programming-advertising direction.
Critics would say this is all a trend, that there is also concern about one of the biggest U.S. toy companies, Hasbro, launching a new kids' network, The Hub, with Discovery Networks -- all because of the similar advertising-programming issues.
To much lesser outcry, critics say product placement and branded entertainment in adult TV programming are also problems. TV producers, of course, have a different slant on things. No doubt the producers of "Zevo-3" might say: "But hey. This is a really good show."
What's the good news? No one has used the word "organic" when it comes to the product placement in "Zevo-3."