A spokesman for The Conan O’Brien Show has confirmed that some of that show’s “Clueless Gamer” segments are sponsored by game companies.
According to Red Barrels, the payment did not guarantee favourable coverage.
“These Clueless Gamer segments are not serious reviews nor endorsements — they are strictly comedic sketches,” a spokesman for The Conan O’Brien Show said.
“We do not believe sponsorship identification is needed These are not reviews, they are comedy bits.
“Conan makes it very clear that he is not a qualified video game reviewer at the top of each segment,” he or she added.
“All of the games selected are based on whether or not it would make an entertaining piece for our audience.
“Not all games will fit that criteria…As with many television shows, some aspects of the program do have an [advertising] integration aspect.”
The show does not identify the segment’s sponsorship, which could run afoul of Federal Communication Commission rules.
“In general terms, any ‘material connection’ between an endorser and an advertisement should be disclosed,” said FTC spokeswoman Betsy Lordan.
Its guidelines note that while the supposed endorsement of a comedian in a TV advertisement might be understood to be a joke, a celebrity plugging a product in the normal course of a talk show interview without disclosing a paid relationship with that company would be “deceptive”.
Columbia Journalism School professor Emily Bell said the audience should be informed when money has changed hands.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s a joke,” said Bell.
“It’s still a sales method. … I can’t really see any way in which it could possibly be anything other than unethical.”