Tuesday, October 09, 2007

VNRs Under the Gun (Again)

Successful industries go through phases during their lives, just as human beings do. An industry can be innovative and successful at the outset. Eventually, however, the environment may change significantly, and the business must adapt or perish.

The video news release (VNR), a tool in the broadcast PR or electronic publicity business, has been increasingly threatened due to a tightening regulatory environment. The legal underpinnings of the VNR business are based on a Congressional mandate requiring news outlets to disclose the origin of third-party material, with a limited-or-no disclosure exception for material provided to news outlets at no charge.

Continuing controversy over the nuances of these restrictions has resulted, in the latest instance, in the Federal Communications Commission proposing to fine Comcast $4,000 for airing a VNR without appropriate disclosure. The FCC claims that there was “too much focus on the product or brand name in the programming.” Wasn’t that the point of the VNR in the first place?

The VNR industry, in the form of the National Association of Broadcast Communicators (NABC), is reduced to arguing “against requiring disclosure,” which is a policy-oriented position. After all, there is nothing to prevent Congress from changing the law to require disclosure in all circumstances.

The continuing efforts of the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) and Free Press ensure that this issue will not go away. CMD claims to have identified 140 additional instances of disclosure violations, and there is speculation that the FCC’s move against Comcast are the first of many pending actions, including possible disclosure of product placements. After all, Nielsen proclaimed Coke the top product placement of the first half of 2007 with 3,054 occurrences. The second-ranked Pussycat Dolls Lounge Nightclub recorded a mere 750 mentions. Sounds like fertile ground for an FCC investigation.

The VNR industry must either win in the court of public opinion or find alternate ways to meet the needs of its clients.