BOB GARFIELD: We're back with On the Media. I'm Bob Garfield. And here's a segment from Tampa, Florida local morning TV. [TAPE PLAYS]
MAN: Forget the keys and the Caribbean. The Lee Island Coast has all the island adventure you could want, but without all the travel. It's just a quick trip south of Sarasota. [WAVE WASHING UP ON SHORE]
BOB GARFIELD:Whatever you may think, that bit from WFLA's popular morning offering called Daytime is not a fluffy feature story. It's a fluffy ad, seamlessly placed among non-advertising features. This experimental hybrid has generated high ratings, and, its producers say, zero viewer complaints. But Daytime's ethics were questioned by the Washington Post last week, putting the station and its owner, Media General, on the defensive. Eric Land is WFLA's president and general manager and he joins me now. Eric, welcome to OTM.
ERIC LAND: Well, thanks, Bob.
BOB GARFIELD: Overall, would you characterize Daytime as a program or as an infomercial?
ERIC LAND: I think Daytime is-- Hm. What we have to understand is that the format, in and of itself was created as a vehicle to provide long form advertising. So I would submit that the program, in its infancy, and we're still in its infancy, is more local content than advertorial. As we go forward, we hope that the sustaining part of the program will be more and more in the advertorial range.
BOB GARFIELD:So one day, not long ago, the viewers of WFLA-TV turned on Channel 8 in the morning and there they saw a segment that sounded like this. [TAPE W/UPBEAT MUSIC UNDER PLAYS]
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Cool cars on the big show, today. Larry Wizes joins us from the Ed Morse Auto Plaza. Good to see you, sir.
LARRY: Good to be here.
UNIDENTIFIED LARRY: Boy, I'm excited about today. We got an RX-8, and I don't want to talk about it first. I want to tease our viewers, because it'll be their first time seeing it. But we also have a new one. The-- They just call it the 6?
LARRY: Mazda 6. You were talking earlier about places to go here in Florida. We've got the perfect cars for you to do that in.
BOB GARFIELD: Now, Eric, there is no delineation from segment to segment between what is pure editorial and what is there because a sponsor has paid to put it there. They all look approximately like segments on a morning chat show. Is that fair to the audience?
ERIC LAND: I think it is, because if it is not characterized as editorial, and it's not, because it's entertainment in nature, and because the program is labeled at the end for those segments that are in fact advertiser-supported, we feel we've met the-- an ethical standard. I would liken the program more to Regis & Kelly, for example, than I would to any of the news products that we have on Channel 8 in Tampa.
BOB GARFIELD:Okay. My question isn't about whether the viewer is being somehow tricked into thinking that he or she is watching news and in fact is watching advertising. My question is whether the viewer is being tricked into thinking he or she is watching entertainment programming and is watching advertising.
ERIC LAND: I think unfortunately you're trying to apply journalistic values to entertainment programming, and the two don't compare.
BOB GARFIELD: What's your favorite entertainment show, cop show or whatever?
ERIC LAND: My favorite cop show is on NBC, and it's Law and Order.
BOB GARFIELD: Okay. So imagine yourself watching Law and Order, and in the midst of the plot one day, a car pulls up, and one of the characters admires the car, says what are you driving? Nice ride. And the guy says well I'm glad you asked that question. This happens to be a brand new Toyota Avalon with 212 horsepower and the quietest ride in its category. And the other character says, "Hm. Toyota Avalon." And then they continue with whatever the jurisprudence story is of the day. Now you're a viewer. You're going to be ticked off.
ERIC LAND: I would be outraged, because when I tuned in, I would have expected an entertainment program in primetime. That's not what Daytime is. When viewers tune in to Daytime, they know exactly what they're getting. It's an entertainment program with advertorial segments. Very clear.
BOB GARFIELD:Eric, it's a one-second, type only crawl during the credit segment. Are you suggesting that people are hanging on every word of the crawl during the credit sequence that rolls by?
ERIC LAND: No, no I don't think that at all, Bob. But what I think is happening here is that you're trying to enlist me in an argument over your opinion of how the station needs to label itself--
BOB GARFIELD:That's exactly what I'm trying to do. I'm picking a fight with you on whether the viewers understand what they're seeing and whether there is ample enough disclosure of it.
ERIC LAND: And our opinion has been to this point that we feel it has been amply labeled. We feel the viewers recognize the difference between the program's content and its paid-for content. Does that mean that we will not revisit it, going forward, like we do all of our other policies? Absolutely, we will. To do otherwise would be arrogant. But the bottom line is, we've got a number one program, more often than not, in its time period, that has met its goal in I think our viewers and advertisers -- the test of time at least for the first two years.
BOB GARFIELD: Well, Eric, thank you very much. You're kind to join us.