About AEF | Newsletter | Site Map | Legal | Advanced Search
Print Version

Web Takes Center Stage In Battle Over Children's Ads

The Association of National Advertisers is calling the Federal Communication Commission’s attempt to curb advertising and promotions for children's TV shows “intrusive” and an illegal attempt to reach out to the Web, a medium the FCC doesn’t control.

The ANA's court filing this week in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit supports Viacom’s request to stay an FCC rule before it can take effect in Jan. 1. The ANA contends the rule -- which, among other things, prohibits displaying Web addresses in children's programming for Web pages that feature cartoon characters selling products -- conflicts with the traditional definition of advertising and “is contrary to official U.S. government policy with respect to the Internet.”

No 'unbound discretion'

“The government does not have unbounded discretion to label any speech it wishes as ‘commercial,’” the ANA asserted. Marketers and media companies are concerned not only with the effects the rule could have on ad pricing and availability, but also on marketers’ ability to extend promotional programs into various media.

“The new rules threaten to strangle new technologies and business models [and] will thwart not only creativity and innovation [but] eliminate a potential revenue stream that can support the shows,” the ANA filing states.

Three changes

The rule makes three main changes in marketing on shows aimed at those younger than 13.

  • It rewrites the definition of what counts as an ad. For the first time, any program promotion counts against advertising limits (12 minutes an hour on weekdays and 10.5 minutes on weekends) on children's shows, effectively forcing broadcasters to choose between reducing time for paid ads or reducing promotion time, a move that could drive up ad prices.
  • It limits the number of times broadcast networks can preempt required children's shows, a move some networks claim would make it more difficult to broadcast live sports programming on the West coast.
  • It imposes new rules on how media companies can promote Web sites on programming by banning links to Web pages featuring TV show characters selling products. Mentions of other links also counts against ad time unless the Web link is related to educational content. Broadcasters argue the change could mean that on-air characters like SpongeBob SquarePants and Mickey Mouse couldn’t be anywhere on Viacom or Walt Disney Co. Web sites if products and services also appear.

Multimedia gateways

The last rule could dramatically affect how broadcasters turn kids' programming into gateways for new multimedia content, just as digital broadcasting opens the door for new links from program content to Web sites.

Broadcasters and ad groups are trying to overturn the rule.

The ANA, which has asked the court to allow it to join Viacom’s attempt to get the rule stayed, said the FCC has gone too far. “The new rules illegitimately impose FCC content controls on Internet communications [and] the FCC erroneously expanded the scope of ‘commercial matter,’ departing from its long standing definition,” the filing said.

“These changes will have a significant adverse impact on the First Amendment rights of ANA’s members, limiting their ability to reach viewers of children’s programs and the Web sites related to them and the revenue streams necessary to produce high-quality advertiser-supported children’s shows,” the ANA said in its filing.


Ira Teinowitz, Advertising Age. November 3, 2005

Copyright © 2004, Crain Communications Inc.. All rights reserved.