Nicktoons series may violate commercial material rule

The FCC has launched an inquiry into whether Nickelodeon’s upcoming series “Zevo-3″ violates rules limiting the amount and kind of advertising that appears during children’s programming.

Nickelodeon denies it has violated any rules.

A consumer group, the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, filed a petition last week charging that the show features characters originally developed by Skechers USA that amount to an advertisement to promote the sale of shoes to children. The show is produced by Skechers Entertainment and is scheduled to debut on NickToons next month.

The FCC’s inquiry is at an early stage, as it has set a date of Oct. 22 for public comment and Nov. 8 for replies.

“Zevo-3,” the consumer group says, features three superhero characters whose only existence to date has been in Skechers marketing and commercials, and thus “the entire show will be an advertisement for the Skechers brand.” The group says it violates the Children’s Television Act requirement that no cable operator air more than 10.5 minutes of commercials per hour in weekday programming. While the show will not include product placement, the characters “are inextricably linked to the specific lines of shoes they promote” and have been so successful “that children often ask for shoes by character name rather than by shoe model,” the group says.

Programmers walk a fine line when launching ventures that exploit recognizable brands, and parents groups will be watching closely next month when Discovery launches The Hub, a joint venture with Hasbro that will feature characters from the toymakers’ gallery of products. But the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Children indicated that the case of “Zevo-3″ was different in that it was created out of a “commercial logo.”

Nickelodeon, however, says that Zevo-3 is not an advertisement. The company said in a statement: “As previously stated, we do not believe that the show is a program-length commercial, nor do we agree that its transmission would violate the Children’s Television Act or any of the Commission’s rules or policies.”

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