It’s the end of an era as the ITC publishes its very last Annual Report and Accounts before the arrival of OFCOM.
Who: The Independent Television Commission
When: April 2003
The Independent Television Commission ("ITC") published its final Annual Report and Accounts before handing over regulatory responsibility to OFCOM, the new communications regulatory body which becomes operational at the end of 2003.
The report reviews 2002, a volatile year in the commercial television sector and one-which saw the culmination of nearly three years of planning to inform and test a new regulatory framework for OFCOM.
In the area of advertising regulation, the ITC reports that at 7,830, the number of complaints received by the ITC about advertising in 2002 was very close to the figure handled in 2001 (7,796). As in previous years, however, it was almost double the number received about programmes. This can be attributed to a number of factors: that advertising complaints are sent directly to the regulator rather than the broadcaster, that viewers may react more negatively to advertisements where they cannot plan their viewing in advance as with programmes, and perhaps most significantly, because an advertising campaign would involve continuing repetition of a commercial, unlike programmes.
As for the outcome of the ITC's investigations into complaints about commercials, again, the result was very similar to that in 2001 in that complaints were upheld in respect of 136 commercials.
The dubious honour of most complained-about advertisement of 2002 was earned by the Pot Noodle "slag of all snacks" campaign which the ITC required to be withdrawn, reflecting that "slag" is a word that is found widely offensive, including among younger groups of viewers. In fact, research showed that the overwhelming majority of viewers find bad language of any kind in commercials offensive, and this is why it is not, with the rarest of exceptions, allowed by the ITC.
A "fine matter of judgement" is how the report describes the ITC's decision to require amendment to the X-Box commercial, imaginatively showing a man's transition through life from birth to death. The final shots of his crashing into a gravestone however, were in particular found widely offensive, especially amongst those recently bereaved.
Whilst general "offence" remains viewers' primary concern, misleading-ness was a charge made against a greater number of individual commercials.
Amongst the problems identified was a commercial for Curry's that misleadingly implied that removal of old appliances was included in an offer, an ad for BT Open-World which did not sufficiently alert the potential customer as to restrictions on duration of internet access allowed and advertising for Bosch washing machines where a competitor complained about a claim of washing "40% faster with no loss of performance".
Also worthy of note was tele-shopping channel AuctionWorld, responsible for 225 upheld complaints of not fulfilling delivery times in the early months of 2002. These problems recurred later in the year, leading the ITC to impose the sanction of a £10,000 fine on the broadcaster.
The ITC report comments that whilst tele-shopping channels are a booming industry, the majority of the 39 currently licensed channels by the ITC, have only appeared in the last two years. This relative newness of the industry, together with the absence of pre-vetting by the Broadcast Advertising Clearance Centre, has led to particular problems, to which the ITC has responded by devoting extra specialist staffing to the area and increased monitoring. As a result, the number of interventions for code breaches in this area increased to 21 in the second half of 2002 from 7 in the same period of 2001, but the ITC has welcomed the formation of a tele-shopping trade body to assist with setting and maintaining compliance standards.
This part of the report closes with a reference to the new ITC Advertising Standards Code, which came into force on 2 September 2002. A development reported elsewhere on marketinglaw.co.uk under "TV", the code contained little in the way of substantial changes but was simplified and clarified where appropriate, with a small number of new restrictions, particularly in the area of child protection.
Why this matters:
The appearance of the last ITC Annual Report is something of a milestone in the annals of UK TV Regulation, and it still remains to be seen how and by whom the regulation of television advertising will be reported on in a year's time. On a separate note, the Broadcast Advertising Clearance Centre, which pre-vets all the UK's TV advertising before its broadcast on behalf of the networks, has reason to be pleased at the lack of any significant increase in the number of complaints received in 2002 compared with 2001. One expects that its role will continue in the new regulatory landscape, though the nature and powers of the bodies that work with it to control UK's television advertising may well undergo a radical change.