John Oliver on Sunday night delved into the topic of local news and its questionable use of sponsored content—and apparently, the Last Week Tonight segment was quite effective. Two station groups Deadline describes as "major" say they will review their stations' use of sponsored content in response to the HBO show. Oliver's team paid three stations amounts ranging from $1,750 to $2,800 in order to get an on-air personality to interview someone posing as a rep for a fake product, the "sexual wellness blanket." Oliver's point: If companies pay the right price, they can essentially hawk their products on the news in a way that makes sometimes-dubious products seem legit.
Stations must make sponsorship identification announcements, but Oliver's argument is that those are easily missed by a TV viewer, who might see the segment as actual news rather than a paid spot. As the Denver Post reports, one such medically questionable device that was hawked on the same Denver show Oliver pranked claimed to be "the first FDA-cleared laser to treat the vagina," even though in reality, the FDA had declared it dangerous. A spokesperson for the EW Scripps Co., which owns said Denver station, says the company is "vetting our review processes for non-news segments to ensure our stations follow the proper standards." And Tegna, which owns an Austin station Oliver pranked, said, "While it is a commercial spot, it was an error to air it, and we are reviewing our processes, so this doesn’t happen again." (Read more John Oliver stories.)