Hear this: TV promos are not regular TV advertising. At least, that's what cable program distributors like Comcast Corp. believe.
The issue is those way-too-loud commercial messages the TV industry and advertisers have been wrangling over for the last several months. The sound in those ads must be turned down starting in December, according to new FCC rules.
But cable distributors are looking for an exemption for promos of individual shows and networks. Promos, they say, are not really advertising.
Consumers might not see it that way, though. To average viewers, anything not about the shows they are currently watching is all "non-programming content" -- national commercials, local commercials, and promos. This includes touting a new mop or broom, a mobile phone service, or an effort to lure viewers to see NBC's "The Voice."
Distributors might argue that promos are in fact "content." That would go double for theatrical movies with two to three minute-long trailers that sometimes play on TV.
The big difference, according to the cable companies, is TV promos aren't "paid" media like commercials from advertisers like AT&T, Ford, or Johnson & Johnson. Networks can put on as many -- or as little -- promos as they want. Nielsen said recently that during the last six months of 2011, the equivalent of $4.5 billion in promos ran on all national TV networks.
This is not to say that networks don't pay for promotional media. HBO does this occasionally for the likes of "True Blood." NBC might do it to promote "Revolution" on Universal Sports, a network where it has a minority interest.
Cable companies believe changing the audio on promos would place a technological burden on their systems -- especially for networks that don't have regular advertising like Disney Channel, PBS or Sprout.
The end result is that cable companies would get an advantage in promoting their own products and services, especially those networks in which they have a vested stake. Overall, it will perhaps give them a noisier gain over advertising clients that pay for media placement.