Local News’ Content Sales Scheme

Expressing “concern that these deals could break FCC rules about commercial clients within news programs,” the New York Daily News‘ Richard Huff reports (2/10/09) a local scandal related to the WPIX/Channel 11 Pix Morning News program that “features a local restaurant chef whipping up a meal and often an anchor talking about a chance for viewers to purchase discounted coupons to the restaurant”:

What’s not said, however, is that some of those appearances are part of a marketing agreement in which the restaurant gives the station 100 $100 gift certificates and gets a guarantee of on-air time during the Pix Morning News.

The coupons, worth $10,000 altogether, are sold on WPIX/Channel 11‘s Web site for half their face value, with the revenue going to Channel 11 and a corporation that handles the coupon distribution.

One marketing plan obtained by the Daily News clearly stated to the restaurant being pitched that in exchange for the coupons, the customer got on-air time–not a commercial–during the weekly “Dining Pix” segment.

The crucial–and potentially illegal–part is that “the on-air segments are not labeled commercials, but rather pitched as something the restaurants are doing to give diners a discount on food in hard times.” But Huff is not fooled: “since Channel 11 keeps some of the money from the coupon sales, in a way, the ad-sales department is selling part of the program to a client.”