Skechers Show a Hot Topic for FCC


Washington — If the Federal Communications
Commission decided that TV shows based on toys constitute
illegal program-length commercials, the implications
could be bigger than a life-sized Barbie.

It could also become a toy story with a particularly unhappy
ending for cable and broadcast programmers.

The agency’s Media Bureau has scheduled a comment
cycle for a petition
by the Campaign for
a Commercial-Free
Childhood for a declaratory
ruling that
Nicktoons ser ies
Zevo-3 — scheduled
to debut next month
— is a programlength
commercial, in
violation of FCC rules.

The CCFC said
the show amounts
to a program-length
commercial because
it features characters
originally developed
by shoe manufacturer
Skechers USA
to promote the sale of its shoes to kids. The show is produced
by Skechers Entertainment.

In a statement, Nicktoons responded, “[W]e do not believe
that the show is a program-length commercial, nor do
we agree that its transmission would violate the Children’s
Television Act or any of the Commission’s rules or policies.”

A Nicktoons spokesperson confirmed that the network
would not be airing any Skechers ads in the show, pointing out
that that would be a violation of the Childrens’ Television Act.

The FCC has given interested parties until Oct. 22 to file
comments and Nov. 8 to file replies.

Historically, the FCC has applied the program-length
commercial definition to kids’ shows that feature ads for
a product within a show that depicts a character associated
with it, not to shows based on a toy or whose characters
become popular toys after the fact.

For example, the FCC ruled that an ad featuring a brief
glimpse of a Pokémon character that aired during an episode
of Pokémon turned the cartoon show into a commercial.

A declaratory ruling that shows based on toys were
in themselves program-length commercials would
bring such shows as G.I. Joe or My Little Pony into play,
and raise questions about the TV airings of movies like
Transformers or perhaps even Toy Story. Discovery Communications,
in conjunction with toymaker and producer
Hasbro, is converting the Discovery Kids channel into
The Hub on Oct. 10, with plans for a show based on Transformers
and adaptations of G.I. Joe and My Little Pony.

Another issue: Whether the full-length commercial tag
should be applied to shows that became toy marketing engines
after the fact, due to the popularity of their characters.

“Just because there is a character in a program that
initially originated as a toy, does not transform the program
into a program-length commercial or a commercial
at all,” Association of National Advertisers executive
vice president Dan Jaffe said. “To ban or severely restrict
these programs if they don’t have an explicit selling message
would be censorship of noncommercial speech that
has the highest level of First Amendment protection.”