With the legislation now in place allowing paid-for product placement on UK commercial TV for the first time, this can start in Coronation Street etc just as soon as a code is in place. Ofcom has just published a first draft, but as Nick Johnson reports, this may also have consequences for advertiser-funded programming.
Topic: Product placement
When: 28 June 2010
Law stated as at: 6 July 2010
Ofcom, the regulatory body for the UK communications industries, has issued a consultation paper on changes to the Broadcasting Code to permit product placement in certain categories of TV programmes.
This follows the enactment of the Audiovisual Media Services (Product Placement) Regulations 2010 earlier this year. However the regime previously in place continues to apply until Ofcom issues a revised Code following its consultation process. That is currently expected to be November or December 2010.
The consultation paper sets out Ofcom's proposed product placement rules and various other changes to the Code rules on sponsorship and commercial references. (Note there is a separate consultation exercise for radio.) The consultation closes on 17 September 2010.
Why this matters:
In fact product placement has long been permitted on British TV, but only in the context of imported programmes and films. This has left domestic producers and commissioning broadcasters at a distinct disadvantage. The proposed rule changes should go some way towards redressing the balance, but many may argue that Ofcom's proposals are unduly restrictive and don't do enough to level the playing-field. In particular:
– Signalling. Ofcom proposes what some have described as a "warning label" for UK-produced programmes featuring product placement. The recommendation is for an on-air symbol at the beginning and end of programmes containing paid-for placements, and following each ad break, accompanied each time by an audio signal or announcement. The proposed symbol is a "P" or "PP" in a circle. These requirements have been seen by many as a disproportionate and intrusive way of ensuring transparency.
– "Thematic placement". The consultation paper picks out from the Recitals of the Audiovisual Media Services Directive the concept of "thematic placement". It proposes a definition of "thematic placement" as paid-for inclusion of a "specific plot line or theme" within a programme (but not necessarily the inclusion of an identifiable product or service). The proposal is that thematic placement should be banned as being incompatible with broadcasters' editorial independence. However this would make advertiser-funded programming (AFP) almost entirely unworkable. Ofcom's paper suggests that their proposal would "not impact on existing programme production practices". But most AFP projects involve an advertiser paying for production of a programme that includes or supports one or more themes, as reflected in the programme format (eg "Beat: Life on the Street" funded by the Home Office, "The Real DIY Show" financed by B&Q etc). Under current practices, broadcasters maintain strict independence editorially, as to how those themes are treated in the programme. But the proposed ban would effectively prevent advertiser-originated formats from being aired on TV at all.
Advertisers and others involved in advertiser funded programming projects will no doubt wish to submit responses and engage with Ofcom on these issues.