ESPN will air a documentary in March about the 24 Hours of Le Mans race -- a program totally financed by German automaker Audi.
One obvious question: Will the show, "Truth in 24," let viewers know that the program is backed by Audi -- and therefore could influence its content? But a bigger question remains: Does it matter?
For some time now, the Federal Communications Commission has been considering instituting regulation over marketing identification, clarifying branded entertainment, product placement, and perhaps full sponsorship in TV shows for viewers. The aim is to show who is at the controls behind the big curtain.
But how much does it really matter to viewers these days? On a blizzard of reality shows, sponsors names are readily identifiable, including the biggest of shows -- "American Idol" and "Dancing with the Stars."
Audi, with its show, wants to convey its association with high-performance cars and high technological standards to ESPN's mostly male sports viewers -- those who would be likely to buy high-performance vehicles.
According to estimates, branded entertainment is not only destined to grow on traditional TV airwaves, but on new digital platforms as well. Many video content providers will tell you in-program marketing sponsorship helps to reduce TV production costs. Much of this is probably true with non-scripted shows -- and new independent series like those on the Web.
Viewers seem sophisticated enough to understand the business underpinnings of TV and Web content these days. But how far do we go? Do you need to name the corporate parent of every consumer product with a commercial? How about the creative and media agencies responsible?
If federal regulators head down this road, I reckon they should go a lot deeper -- revealing a lot more about where programming, commercials, infomercials, and corporate-sponsored TV news clips, comes from.
You want to level with TV viewers and Web video users? Tell them more than they want to know.