November 14, 2005

Hollywood unions seek curb on product promotions

By Arthur Spiegelman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Two Hollywood unions called on
Monday for new limits on the practice of weaving commercial
brands into the story lines of movies and TV shows, saying
so-called product placement has gotten out of hand.

The Writers Guild of America and the Screen Actors Guild
also called for the actors and writers who do the extra
product-promotion work to be paid more. The unions said serious
ethical and financial questions were raised by a recent
proliferation of product placements, which they said grew by 44
percent in films and 84 percent in television last year.

The unions called for a code of conduct that would make it
clear from the start of a program that viewers would be
watching scenes in which companies have paid for their products
to be used.

The unions said that revenues generated last year from
product placement deals reached more than $1 billion.

In an eight-page policy paper on the issue, the Writers
Guild cited as an example the third season of NBC reality show
"The Apprentice," in which Burger King, Dove Body Wash, Sony
PlayStation, Verizon Wireless and Visa reportedly paid upward
of $2 million apiece have their products incorporated into an
episode of the show.

Patric Verrone, president of the Writers Guild, West, said
traditional network standards governing commercial product
placement "are increasingly being swept aside in favor of
product integration and branded entertainment."

He added: "In their race to the bottom line to create the
so-called new business model, network and advertising
executives are ignoring the public's interest and demanding
that creative artists participate in stealth advertising
disguised as a story."

SAG and the WGA added that if they could not win an
agreement with producers on the issue, they would file a
complaint with the Federal Communications Commission, which
regulates broadcast television.

SAG president Alan Rosenberg said product placement "too
often takes place without any compensation to the very
performers that are expected to push those products." He called
for producers to work with the unions on the question of
increased compensation for the writers and actors who do the
work of weaving commercial brands into film and TV content.

Officials for the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television
Producers, the industry group that represents studios at the
bargaining table, were not immediately available for comment.