AS the wave of pressure to adopt business practices that promote a healthier lifestyle continues to wash over the US kids entertainment industry, the Big Three media congloms dominating the space are attempting to head off government regulation by proactively instituting self-policing guidelines.
First on-board was Disney, which introduced new food guidelines in October 2006. And Turner subsidiary Cartoon Network has followed suit, just weeks ago announcing its own self-regulation plans to address the childhood obesity problem and the resulting governmental and public pressure.
CN’s regs are primarily based on nutritional standards for food in schools issued by the Institute of Medicine that meet the US Dietary Guidelines, and were developed in consultation with a whole slew of child nutrition experts. Under the new policy, CN will limit the use of original characters from its proprietary IP targeting children 12 years old and younger to food and beverage products that come in under caps on total calories, total fat, saturated fat, trans fat and all the other stuff that tastes great but might send you to an early grave. CN also plans to pump resources into ‘Get Animated,’ an over-arching campaign encouraging kids to get physical through PSAs, a DVD staring Anna Kournikova and various on-air and in-print spots.
Another sign that US kidnets are trying to stave off government regulations came recently in the form of a letter from Nickelodeon president Cyma Zarghami to Democratic House of Representatives member Edward Markey, chairman of the subcommittee on telecommunications and the Internet. The missive wasn’t released publicly by Nick, but was subsequently posted on Markey’s website. Short on detail, but long on sentiment, it states that, ‘Nickelodeon will be adopting a policy in which the use of our licensed characters on food packaging will be limited to products that meet ‘better for you’ criteria as established by marketing partners in accordance with governmental dietary guidelines.’
The letter goes on to promise that Nick will institute these reforms in January 2009, and Zarghami also points out that Nick has committed US$30 million and 10% of its airtime to advocate healthier diets, and has also struck up a partnership with the Clinton Foundation and American Heart Association.
Off to an early start, Disney expects most of its licensed products and promo tie-ins to be meeting its redrawn guidelines by the end of 2008. Of course, what remains to be seen is what will replace the licensed junk food. Disney and Nick have attempted to brand fresh fruit and vegetables, and one can only guess that CN will have to follow suit in order to make up the expected shortfall. But will it work?
Another big question is whether the US government will see fit to forcefully regulate the broadcasters and their consumer products partners as a highly visible measure to combat the national obesity crisis. You can bet that the Big Three will be keenly watching the 2008 election campaigns, both presidential and congressional, to gauge the tone of the political debate and adjust their policies accordingly.