Legitimate paid-for product placement on UK TV has been edging closer for some while, but does the very latest version of the European Commission’s controversial draft “Audio Visual Content Services Directive” add more momentum to the bandwagon?
Topic: Branded content
Who: European Commission
When: December 2005
The EC last week released a consultation paper on proposed changes to the Television Without Frontiers Directive. In essence the changes fall into 3 main areas:
First, the Commission proposes that the scope of the Directive be extended to cover audio-visual content delivered other than by broadcast. So wireless and internet content would be covered, together with other audiovisual content, regardless of platform or delivery mechanism. In consequence the Directive would be renamed the "Audiovisual Media Services Directive".
Second, the amended Directive would relax and simplify the current position in terms of when and where advertising minutage may be deployed. It would do away with the current three hours per day limit and give broadcasters more freedom as to when they show ads. The 12 minutes per hour cap would however be maintained.
Third, a new approach is proposed for product placement. The ban on "surreptitious advertising" in the existing Directive has been implemented in many member states (including the UK) as including a ban on paid-for product placement. However, the new proposals would allow brand-owners to pay for their products to be included in programmes, subject to certain controls:
- Any paid-for product placement would need to be appropriately flagged at the beginning of the programme "to avoid any confusion on the part of the viewer".
- Programmes must not directly encourage purchase or rental of products.
- Brand-owners must not be permitted to influence content or scheduling in such as a way as to "affect the responsibility and editorial independence of the media service provider".
Why this matters
Many broadcasters and production companies have been lobbying for some time for a relaxation of the current rules on product placement. They argue that UK players are put at a serious competitive disadvantage by the current ban: product placement is permitted in the USA, and a large number of US programmes shown on British TV contain placed products.
Many brandowners and agencies similarly have wished to take the current vogue for "branded content" and brand integration to the next stage, by incorporating brands into television programmes.
However, some commentators wonder whether product placement could really be the financial panacea that many in the broadcasting industry are hoping for. While the US market for product placement is apparently worth an estimated $2.4 billion, and growing at 30% per annum, the UK market is considerably smaller. And any increased spend on product placement could well be at the expense of a proportion of spot advertising spend.
Equally, the ability of brands and their agencies to use product placement as a marketing communication tool will of course be somewhat limited by the ban on editorial influence.
*** STOP PRESS *** Ofcom has also now just released its own consultation paper on product placement. Look out for further coverage of this in next month's www.marketinglaw.co.uk updates.