Are advertisers using Web to skirt children's TV regulations?

By promoting purely commercial Web sites on kids' TV shows, broadcasters may be violating laws intended to limit the amount of commercial time.
Written by ZDNET Editors, Contributor

As new devices allow more children to have access to the Internet, the race is on for the attention and loyalty of its youngest consumers. That has ushered in new regulations by the Federal Communications Commission to curb advertising for Web sites that link to commercial content aimed at children 12 and under, reports CNET News.

"The entire new media landscape is one immense personalized ad targeted at kids," said Jeff Chester, director of the advocacy group Center for Digital Democracy, which has pressed the FCC to extend children's TV programming rules to the Internet.

The new regulations came about because the FCC saw that some broadcasters were using children's programming as a billboard for addresses to Web sites "established solely for commercial purposes" - an end-run around federal law. Under the 1990 Children's Television Act, every hour of children's programming may contain only 10.5 minutes of advertising during weekends and 12 minutes on weekdays.

In general, any addresses for sites with commercial content can be displayed so long as they're counted against the networks' allotted advertising minutes and "clearly separated" from show content. The new rules do not, however, target advertisements not aimed at children - such as cars and medicine.

Not surprisingly, the ruling has been vigorously objected to by the advertising, cable and broadcast industries, who argue that the regulations violate their First Amendment rights. The new regulations were drafted by recommendations from four major broadcast networks, three major children's cable networks (Nickelodeon, Disney and Cartoon Network), and a coalition of advocacy groups called the Children's Media Policy Coalition.

The regulations have left some children's advocates wondering if the FCC went far enough.

"It's left major loopholes for advertisers and marketers to target kids," said Susan Linn, a psychologist and co-founder of the advocacy coalition Campaign for A Commercial-Free Childhood.

Linn would like see the FCC take a more proactive stance and ban "interactive" advertising, a phenomenon that is not so far in the future.

"We don't want kids to be able to click on a Web address or on a specific character from the television screen and be transported to a commercial Web site," said Patti Miller, a representative from the California-based advocacy group Children Now, which helped to negotiate the final rules. "This type of advertising would violate the FCC's rules about the separation between program and advertising content." "We don't want kids to be able to click on a Web address or on a specific character from the television screen and be transported to a commercial Web site."
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