FTC Sets Blogger Rules

It’s not often a Federal Trade Commission ruling upsets the musical blogosphere, but new FTC guidelines have left more than a few bloggers in a tizzy.

In an effort to make product information and online reviews more accurate, the FTC recently introduced its “Guides Concerning The Use Of Endorsements And Testimonials In Advertising.” It requires, among other things, that bloggers disclose whether they received compensation in return for hyping products.

That may seem pretty clear-cut when it comes to, say, reviewing a new stereo system, oven or flat-screen TV. After all, if you’re reading about a new automobile, you should know whether the author received a new car in exchange for a glowing review.

But music journalists and bloggers often receive free CDs, usually from labels or artists’ press reps, regardless of what ultimately is written about the music. Chances are the less-than-favorable CD review you recently read online about your favorite artist was written by someone who received a free copy of the disc. And, like critics have throughout the history of recorded music, that reviewer did not disclose the freebie.

Plus, music journalism has never been accused of being fair and balanced. Writers routinely build up bands while other scribes tear them down. It’s the one thing that drives fans nuts, but we read them anyway, often building love/hate relationships with writers that endure for years.

Along with the new FTC directive comes the almost impossible task of enforcing the latest guidelines. The new rules, which go into effect Dec. 1, are not binding by law. Instead, violations will be enforced by sanctions and lawsuits.

Adding to the confusion is the rather ambiguous way the FTC insists bloggers must disclose conflicts of interests. Instead of actually giving examples of what the Commission expects to see, the government agency merely said disclosures must be “clear and conspicuous.”

But when it comes to enforcing the new guidelines for bloggers, the FTC has made it clear it’s not looking for a one-size-fits-all position but instead will handle alleged violations on a case-by-case basis.

To be sure, the FTC is looking out for the public interest and its new guidelines are partially aimed at folks who are paid to write favorable reports and testimonials about products and services. And the FTC is more concerned about advertisers and products than online posters merely stating opinions.

The new guidelines may be well and good for folks writing reviews about laundry detergents, toothpaste and dog food, but what about those writing about movies, CDs and concerts?

Will promotion companies need to include disclosures every time they post a press release announcing a new tour? Will music biz commentator Bob Lefsetz have to disclose who paid for the meal the next time he describes a lunchtime conversation with a major industry player?

Plus, when you consider the amount of street teams and promo people posting online remarks praising bands and artists, you can’t help but wonder where government’s good intentions stop and the government meddling begins.

Bloggers are often described as “citizen journalists,” but some are more like “citizen advertisers” in that they extol the goodness of products without disclosing any compensation received for doing so. It’s understandable that the FTC wants to establish a degree of transparency and accountability so that the public can distinguish between paid-for advertising and actual consumers describing what products work for them.

In fact, Consumer Federation of America spokesman Jack Gillis is on record saying the new FTC guidelines don’t go far enough when it comes to bloggers not disclosing endorsements, commenting that, “There’s tremendous opportunity to steer consumers to the wrong direction.”

Of course, the latest FTC guidelines aren’t all about bloggers. The Commission addressed several advertising issues, including testimonials where it instructs those behind messages to clearly state what consumers can expect from products.

But it’s the first time the FTC or, for that matter, any government agency has taken a crack at regulating blogs in an effort to clarify the relationship between writer and product, blogger and manufacturer. And you can bet this won’t be the last.

AEG’s Incited Excitement

AEG beefed up its media operations recently with the company’s acquisition of webcasting outfit Incited Media.

The plan is to merge Incited with AEG Productions to create a new company called AEG Digital Media that delivers content across major platforms – specifically television, mobile and broadband.

The deal is a natural for AEG. By incorporating a webcasting pro like Incited into its production operations, the company is combining its producing expertise with Incited’s talent for distributing content. The company’s past online accomplishments include the Live 8 and Live Earth concerts as well as last year’s Democratic National Convention.

AEG and Incited aren’t exactly strangers, having collaborated on broadcast and Web productions of the Winter Olympics for NBC, NBA Finals and several award shows.

AEG Productions prez Michael Goldfine will serve as AEG Digital Media’s top exec, while Incited co-founders Joe Einstein and Ben Rolling occupy the positions of VP of production and VP of development, respectively. John Petrocelli joins as VP of sales and business development.

“As the demand for digital media production and distribution grows, we are now uniquely positioned to deliver a range of services that is unmatched in the industry,” Goldfine said. “We are proud to join forces and offer unparalleled capabilities in both traditional and broadband production and broadcasting while extending our reach to new clients and audiences around the world through live and on-demand video delivery over the Internet.”