Aviators distributor scrutinizing show after revelations of apparent product placement

By Dru Sefton

The public TV program The Aviators has come under increased scrutiny from its distributor after Current revealed apparent product placement in the show’s on-air segments.

Executive Producer Anthony Nalli removed a sponsorship page from the program’s website earlier this month after Current inquired about promises that sponsors could “expertly integrate their brands directly into the content of the show in a subtle, non-invasive and very effective manner.” Other pages on the site made similar offers.

Nalli said the matter was a misunderstanding over wording. “I used the language of advertising, not of public television,” Nalli said. He noted that the program follows pubTV and FCC rules against product placement.

The half-hour weekly program is distributed by the National Educational Telecommunications Association. In a May 14 letter to client stations, Gayle Loeber, NETA programming director, stressed that NETA does not allow product placement, or even the perception of it, in programs. It also bars pay-for-play arrangements, in which funders provide backing for positive coverage.

“I take the issues raised in this article regarding The Aviators extremely seriously,” she wrote in the memo, adding that she would have “further conversations” with Nalli and would review the programs “more closely” to ensure she understands Nalli’s funding practices.

“If I conclude that inappropriate solicitation or funding arrangements have taken place,” she added, “I will withdraw these series from NETA distribution. Any future season of The Aviators distributed by NETA will meet our standards.”

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