November 14, 2005

WGA seeks conduct code for TV product placement

By Gail Schiller

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - The Writers Guild of
America is threatening to seek tougher federal regulation of TV
product-placement deals if producers fail to open negotiations
with the union on the issue of weaving commercial brands into
story lines.

Backed by the Screen Actors Guild, the WGA plans to release
a policy paper on Monday calling for establishment of a code of
conduct governing product integration on television and talks
on compensating writers for additional work involved in melding
brands into content.

The white paper will officially be released at a news
conference attended by WGA, West president Patric M. Verrone,
interim executive director David Young and SAG Hollywood
division chair and first national vice president Anne-Marie

The paper warns that the WGA is preparing an Federal
Communications Commission complaint that documents violations
of FCC regulations in the rapidly growing product integration
arena and also calls for full and clear disclosure of branded
entertainment deals at the beginning of each TV show.

"Along with being asked to create memorable stories and
characters, our writers are being told to perform the function
of ad copywriter, but to disguise this as storytelling ... The
Guild does not want its members put in the unacceptable
position of facilitating violations of FCC regulations. We
therefore think this issue ultimately requires discussion both
at the bargaining table and before the FCC in Washington."

With most actors also failing to receive compensation for
product integration deals, SAG is joining ranks with the WGA.
And Verrone said the WGA hopes other Hollywood unions, like the
American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) and
the Directors Guild of America (DGA) will participate in the
effort, as well.

"The sharp increase of product placement in film and
television too often takes place without any compensation to
the very performers that are expected to push those products --
and more often is done without any consultation with those
performers and their representatives," SAG president Alan
Rosenberg said. "It is time for producers to work with artists
on this issue, and the best way to do that is to establish a
cooperative code of conduct that will protect the artist, the
viewing public and advertiser-supported, free television."

The WGA white paper calls for the establishment of a code
that includes full and clear visual and aural disclosure of
product integration deals at the beginning of each program;
strict limits on the use of product integration in children's
programming; a voice for storytellers, actors and directors,
arrived at through collective bargaining, about how a product
or brand is to be integrated into the content; and the
extension of all regulation of product integration to cable

"This code of conduct can be established through
negotiations with our business partners. Failing that, we will
seek additional FCC regulation," the white paper said.

Since the current WGA contract doesn't expire until
November 2007, the guild appears to be focusing more on
establishing an industry code of conduct than on seeking
increased compensation for its writers, at least for the time

But the white paper stipulates that negotiations would also
cover the appropriate compensation for the additional work
involved in writing brands into content, "some of which may
exceed the number of revisions provided for in the collective
bargaining agreement in addition to those provisions regarding
merchandising rights and payment."

The white paper is particularly critical of reality TV,
reflecting the WGA's ongoing campaign to organize reality TV
writers and story editors, most of whom work without the
benefit of union-guaranteed wages or working conditions.

Verrone said the best place for negotiations on
compensation for writers who weave brands into scripts would be
at the bargaining table with reality writers.

"This seems to be the place where the companies are doing
this kind of business most -- with reality writers and
storytellers -- and so, if they're willing to negotiate with us
about that, that would be a perfect place to discuss this
issue," Verrone said.

So far both networks and producers have rejected the WGA's
efforts to bargain on behalf of reality writers.

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter