Hollywood unions protest growing product placement trend

Monday, October 31st 2005, 10:18 am
By: News On 6

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Hollywood writers and actors are calling for a code of conduct to govern the growing trend of hidden advertising in TV shows and films and say they will appeal to federal regulators if studios do not respond to their concerns.

The unions also say they want their share of the billions of dollars in advertising revenue generated by stories they write and act in.

Advertising has been creeping into programming for years. The blurring between ads and entertainment can include simple product placement, such as a Coca-Cola cup prominently displayed on ``American Idol.''

But increasingly, the products are becoming integrated into the story lines. The character of Gabrielle on ``Desperate Housewives,'' for instance, was seen last season as an auto show model, touting the benefits of a new model from Buick.

Some reality shows, such as ``The Apprentice,'' base entire episodes around contestants working with sponsors. The show, featuring Donald Trump, has included tasks involving Burger King, Dairy Queen and the DVD release of the latest ``Star Wars'' film.

Representatives from the Writers Guild of America were scheduled to release a study on the practice Monday, decrying the practice.

``We are being told to write the lines that sell this merchandise and to deftly disguise the sale as a story,'' the study states.

The WGA is calling for a code of conduct that would mandate full disclosure of all product integration deals at the beginning of a program so viewers would know they will be ``subject to hidden or stealth advertising,'' according to a news release to be issued Monday.

The code would also require the issue to be discussed in bargaining with the studios to give actors, writers and directors a voice in how products are woven into the plot.

``Just as there is an established right to truth-in-advertising, there should be a similar right to truth-in-programming where advertising is concerned,'' SAG President Alan Rosenberg said in a statement.

The effort is part of a larger push by the WGA to unionize writers, producers and editors who work on reality TV shows.

The guild has said that many of the ``unscripted'' shows are actually carefully crafted by editors who often write specific dialogue or piece together bits of video to tell a story.

A representative of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which represents film and TV studios, did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment Sunday.

Nick Counter, the AMPTP's president, has called the WGA's aggressive stance on the issue ``an unfortunate tactic,'' in the past. Counter has pointed to the WGA's last contract with the studios, which called for discussions on reality shows on a case by case basis.