Saturday, March 14, 2009

Plugging Away

During a March 3 "We The People" segment about how advertisers target America's Spanish-speaking community, Nightly News showed 15 seconds of a Cheerios commercial, and almost 30 seconds of promotional/advertising material for M & M's (including an ample excerpt from a TV commercial). In addition, there was another 5 seconds of the M & M's commercial shown at the top of the broadcast as part of the intro. The segment also managed to show portions of ads for Coke and Wal-Mart. In fact, Nightly News devoted almost 30% of the entire story to commercial clips. This wasn't just a coincidence. Clearly, NBC was giving a great big on-air "thank you" to their pals at General Mills, Coke, Wal-Mart and M & M/Mars. So how much does 45 seconds of commercial time sell for on Nightly News? $100,000? $150,000? And this is not an isolated incident. On Jan. 31, Nightly News did a story purportedly about 3-D technology in commercials. This "news story" featured 4 separate clips of a commercial for Lifewater--a product that would be advertised the next day during the Super Bowl (which would air, of course, on NBC). The story even managed to show a promo for an upcoming 3-D episode of the NBC show "Chuck". Nice. And on the Feb. 23 broadcast, Kevin Tibbles presented a story that amounted to a two-and-a-half minute infomercial for how spotlessly clean United Airlines planes are (and just to drive the point home, Tibbles wrote more about United's cleanliness on the Daily Nightly blog). Obviously, NBC aired this story as a way of thanking United for all their advertising dollars over the past years. Shameful. But wait--it gets better. This "What Works" segment about United was sponsored by Detrol LA. So NBC actually got paid by Pfizer for the gratuitous story they did on United. Brilliant. If only Tibbles had figured out a way to include a clip from "The Office" in his story, he would have hit the trifecta. After watching that two-and-a-half minute infomercial for United, I felt like I needed an airline barf bag. It would be nice if NBC spent more time reporting actual news and less time rewarding their sponsors with commercials masquerading as news. And this wasn't the first time Nightly News has acted as a shill for United Airlines. Last Aug. 21, Brian Williams devoted a good part of his Daily Nightly blog to heaping saccharine praise on United. He wrote, "While we're tough on the airline industry these days, our experience on United Airlines en route to China and en route home was enough to restore one's faith in the commercial airlines business...I've never seen flight attendants work harder to treat all passengers with the same respect and level of service." (As if every passenger gets treated like Brian Williams.) Brian went on to laud the "incredible" O'Hare ground supervisor who, "...loves his great city, United Airlines and the Chicago Bears." Cue the patriotic music and the stars and stripes background. Clearly, the NBC executives have made a conscious decision to use portions of their news broadcast to plug products for their advertisers.

Double shameless. On the March 4 Nightly News, Brian Williams spent two full minutes desperately trying to prop up GE's falling stock price. Brian (speaking to CNBC's David Faber) earnestly informed us that GE was, "Founded by Thomas Edison. Why is it important in modern-day America as the last surviving member of the original Dow--and was it the victim of a feeding frenzy these past few days?" Faber then told us that, "GE says we have more than enough capital--more than enough financial flexibility--we are simply the victim at this point of a feeding frenzy." It is absolutely inappropriate for Brian Williams to use his position as a network news anchor to try to bolster confidence in NBC's parent company. Nightly News is spending so much time promoting their sponsors and their own self-interest that it's surprising they have any time left to broadcast the news. And when they do broadcast the "news" it's often about skateboarding bulldogs or other ridiculous stories. It's been said that the demise of the network evening news broadcast is imminent. I think it's already happened.

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