The FCC, always a source of amusement for this website, has decided to crack down on Comcast for broadcasting VNRs or “Video News Releases.” VNRs are produced by PR firms for use as filler by lazy TV news producers. It’s a great deal for TV: They get free content and don’t have to deal with the pressure of doing their jobs properly, and the company gets product placement. Consumers are the only losers.
The FCC filing says that a complaint was filed by the Center for Media and Democracy alleging that on September 21, 2006, Comcast broadcast a VNR for Nelson’s Rescue Sleep without providing the sponsorship identification required by law. Comcast argues that they’re not covered under that law because they didn’t receive any compensation for showing the VNR.
The VNR in question was shoehorned into a daily “consumer issues” segment on the CN8 show “Art Fennel Reports.” From the FCC:
CN8′s cablecast featuring “Nelson’s Rescue Sleep” was part of a daily segment on “Art Fennell Reports” focusing on consumer issues. concerned non-prescription sleep aids. The segment featured only “Nelson’s Rescue Sleep,” a commercial, natural sleep-aid product, and included portions of a VNR produced by D.S. Simon Productions on behalf of “Nelson’s Rescue Sleep.”
The VNR material used in this consumer-issues segment contains extensive images and mentions of the product and includes the statement that “If you are one of the estimated 70 million Americans who have trouble sleeping – Rescue Sleep may be what you’re looking for.”
We do not believe that this type of promotional material, furnished by a product manufacturer, can or should be considered within the scope of the proviso, which is directed to material that contains only fleeting or transient references to products or brand names. We conclude that even though CN8 received this material at no charge, it falls within the exception specifically set forth in the rule and that a sponsorship announcement was thus required. We therefore find that Comcast violated Section 76.1615(a) of the Commission’s rules by willfully airing the VNR material at issue without proper sponsorship identification.