Who: Ofcom, NickToons, Nickelodeon UK Limited
When: 20 June 2016
Law stated as at: 15 July 2016
Ofcom has published the outcome of an investigation into multiple breaches of the Code on the Scheduling of Television Advertising (“COSTA”) by NickToons (a channel provided by Nickelodeon UK Limited). Rule 12 of COSTA prohibits advertising breaks during children’s programmes with a scheduled duration 30 minutes or less and this restriction is based on the Audiovisual Media Services Directive, which sets out limits on the amount and scheduling of television advertising.
Rule 12 is now being interpreted and applied differently following debate and consideration from Ofcom as to how it should measure the scheduled duration of a programme. Back in July 2015, Ofcom confirmed that the scheduled duration of a programme will be equivalent to the length of the slot it occupies in an electronic programme guides. Ofcom then announced that it would be enforcing the rule under this interpretation as of 1 April 2016.
In this case, Ofcom monitored children’s programmes broadcast on NickToons between 1 April and 14 April 2016 and found 177 instances of 30 minute programmes being interrupted by advertising. Whilst NickToons argued that 175 of the 177 incidents were examples where a single 30 minute slot contained two separate programmes interrupted by an end break, Ofcom still found that this breached rule 12. This was because NickToon’s explanation did not correspond with Ofcom’s new approach, in which it was determined that if programmes were scheduled in 30 minute slots then, for the purposes of COSTA, the definition of the scheduled duration time would be 30 minutes regardless of the way in which content was presented. Ofcom considered NickToons’ actions as a significant compliance failure and has stated that it will continue to monitor its advertising scheduling practices.
Why this matters:
This decision shows that Ofcom are taking this matter seriously and are now actively monitoring compliance in this area across the industry. Rather than looking at this on a case-by-case basis, Ofcom’s new approach regarding rule 12 means that it will simply judge all programmes according to their scheduling slot duration only. This sends a clear message to broadcasters that programme content will not be considered relevant and places the onus on those broadcasters to then schedule their programmes in the correct way in order to avoid breaching COSTA.