WSJ on TV gadget payola racket

Today's WSJ features an article on how companies pay some television "tech experts" to pimp products on air.

There was one detail the audience didn't know: Kodak paid [Child magazine's Technology Editor James] Oppenheim to mention the photo album, according to the company and Mr. Oppenheim. Neither Mr. Oppenheim nor KVUE disclosed the relationship to viewers. During the segment, Mr. Oppenheim praised products from other companies, including: Atari Inc., Microsoft Corp., Mattel Inc., Leapfrog Enterprises Inc. and RadioShack Corp. All paid for the privilege, Mr. Oppenheim says.

One month later, Mr. Oppenheim went on NBC's "Today" show, the U.S.'s biggest national morning news program, which is part of NBC's news division. "Kodak came out with a great idea," he said to host Ann Curry, before proceeding to talk about the same product he'd been paid to discuss on KVUE. Ms. Curry called it a "nice gift for a little child." Kodak says it didn't pay for the "Today" show mention. But neither Mr. Oppenheim nor NBC disclosed the prior arrangement to tout the product on local TV.

In the "Today" segment, Mr. Oppenheim talked about products made or sold by 15 companies. Nine were former clients and eight of those had paid him for product placement on local TV during the preceding year. KVUE says it didn't know about Mr. Oppenheim's business deal. An NBC spokeswoman says the network is looking into what it knew about Mr. Oppenheim's relationship with Kodak and the other manufacturers.

Mr. Oppenheim is part of a little-known network that connects product experts with advertisers and TV shows. The experts pitch themselves to companies willing to pay for a mention. Next, they approach local-TV stations and offer themselves up to be interviewed. Appearances frequently coincide with trade shows, such as the Consumer Electronics Show, or holidays including Christmas or Valentine's Day. (…)

The familiar faces on this circuit include Mr. Oppenheim, "Today" Tech Editor Corey Greenberg and trend spotter Katlean de Monchy. They are among an army of experts who have risen to prominence as news organizations everywhere, seeking to expand their audiences, have branched into reviewing consumer products ranging from home furnishings to personal finance.

Link to story (Thanks, Joe Menn!)