The Following is a Paid-For Announcement

July 13, 2009

By: Jonathan Cohen:

Good Morning America. The Today Show. The View. The Balancing Act. They’re all the same, right? Daily morning shows with chipper hosts presenting news, factoids, and interviews in an upbeat and digestible format. Regardless of where your particular morning viewing allegiances lie, each of these programs has a loyal audience that believes it’s getting honest advice and information from these shows and their hosts. So would it disturb you to know that one of these shows is nothing more than an infomercial in disguise?

It turns out that The Balancing Act, a half-hour show airing weekday mornings on the Lifetime network, essentially consists of paid-for-programming.

Lifetime has built its reputation as a network dedicated to women and their interests. Well ladies, every weekday morning Lifetime helps companies peddle a variety of products in an attempt to separate you from your hard-earned money. This conduct wouldn’t be so offensive but for the way in which The Balancing Act is structured.

The would-be program is devised to look like your standard morning show, complete with friendly hosts sitting in a relaxed environment gabbing away with energetic guests. But in reality, some (if not all) of The Balancing Act’s guests have paid to appear on the show and discuss a particular product.

Now, there’s nothing inherently wrong with selling airtime to businesses for commercial purposes, but call it what it is. This is paid-for-programming masquerading as a legitimate television show. Viewers have a right to know whether they’re watching an advertisement or an actual show. This is the very reason why your cable guide (and infomercials themselves) typically state whether a particular timeslot is a paid-for announcement.

Clearly, the Lifetime network sees no need to inform its audience that The Balancing Act contains paid-for-programming. At no point before, during or after each episode is it disclosed that any portion of the show has been bought and paid for by a company for the sole purpose of selling something. This has the intended affect of misleading viewers into believing that the guests, who are often subject-matter experts, celebrities or doctors, are appearing out of the goodness of their hearts and their interest in sharing important information with the public.

Watching an episode of The Balancing Act makes it clear that the show is all about products.

During a recent episode, a celebrity trainer and fitness author appeared and discussed the challenge of fitting a workout into a busy schedule. Within a matter of seconds, the trainer was recommending two specific Bowflex products. The camera zoomed in on the product several times, and at the end of the segment, the host suggested viewers visit the show’s Web site for more information.

Interestingly, this additional information is simply a link to Bowflex’s Web site, and a toll free phone number and promotional code to use when ordering Bowflex equipment. Other show segments include more of the same. In one, former Olympian Mary Lou Retton discusses her hip replacement surgery. But she doesn’t discuss it in a general sense. She specifically discusses the brand of replacement hip put into her body.

During Retton’s “conversation” with the host, the product itself is sitting on the table between them. But possibly the most offensive segment focuses on liposuction. In this before-and-after segment, two sisters discuss their experiences with liposuction. Their actual surgery is shown.

During the procedure, they actually speak to the camera. Immediately following the surgery, they discuss how simple it was. The host once again suggests viewers visit The Balancing Act online for more information. That information consists of a link to the official Web site for the specific brand of liposuction machine used in the segment, which enables you to search for a doctor who uses that particular equipment.

From an independent businessperson’s perspective, The Balancing Act is equally troublesome. The program not only sells airtime to big names like Nautilus, Inc., the makers of Bowflex; it also targets small businesses. Recently, Rosalie Kellman, a distributor of organic baby products, was solicited by Brenda Sultan, one of the show’s producers. Sultan scheduled a phone interview with Kellman, during which she asked extensive and detailed questions about Kellman’s business. According to Sultan, she was trying to assess whether Kellman and her products were a good fit for one of the show’s segments.

Finally, at the end of the call – and only when asked directly – Sultan admitted that the show would expect a fee of $39,000.00 from Kellman to secure her airtime. Clearly, The Balancing Act is not like other morning programs, despite claims to the contrary. When asked how The Balancing Act considers itself to be in the same league as programs like The View when guests are paying to appear, Sultan simply stated that she was unaware of any financial obligations related to other shows.

It is disconcerting that a network, especially one as popular as Lifetime, would so blatantly and willingly blur the lines between advertising and non-paid content. In doing so, the audience is denied the right to know what they’re actually watching and the real motivation behind it. If honesty and deception are at opposite ends of the spectrum, The Balancing Act tips the scales towards the latter.