Ofcom’s recent product placement proposals seem to be withering on the vine, but more branded content ideas are coming thick and fast from the regulator. Now a consultation document on sponsorship of entire TV channels has been published.
TV channel sponsorship mooted
When: February 2006
Ofcom, the UK regulator for the communications sector, has confirmed that it intends to remove the current regulatory prohibition on sponsorship of entire TV or radio channels. It has issued a consultation paper on various issues surrounding channel sponsorship.
In seeking to ensure compatibility with its basic cornerstone principles of transparency, separation and editorial independence, Ofcom has stated that its preferred options are as follows:
- sponsorship would not be allowed in relation to channels that carry any news content (or other material that cannot be sponsored) – note that the Television Without Frontiers Directive specifically prohibits sponsorship of news and current affairs TV programmes;
- sponsor names could not be included in the channel name;
- Ofcom would issue guidance as to how to avoid undue prominence being afforded through channel sponsor credits; and
- the existing Ofcom code principles applicable to programme sponsorship would be amended to cover channel sponsorship too.
However it is inviting views on these and a range of other possible options.
Why this matters
Programme sponsorship has been permitted in the UK for over 15 years but sponsorship of an entire channel has been prohibited. In fact, nothing in the Television Without Frontiers Directive requires Ofcom to ban channel sponsorship and, following an earlier consultation process on broadcast sponsorship generally, Ofcom resolved to lift this ban. This is consistent with Ofcom’s duty under section 6(1) the Communications Act 2003 to ensure that unnecessary regulation is not maintained.
In practice the proposal to limit the opportunity to those channels that do not carry news content may meet with little resistance in the TV sector. The key mainstream broadcasters will continue to have strong propositions for sponsorship of individual programmes, series and strands and might see little to be gained through being able to offer channel sponsorship as well or instead. Smaller niche broadcasters however may welcome the opportunity and may be seen as interesting sponsorship properties for the right brand.
However the proposal to prohibit name-in-title channel sponsorships seems odd. Ofcom’s logic is that audiences may be confused as to who is responsible for the channel’s content. However does this matter? In the world of venue sponsorship, it’s possible that name-in-title arrangements such as that for the new Emirates Stadium might confuse consumers into believing that the ground belongs to Emirates rather than Arsenal. Would it matter if a channel title like “The Emirates Sci-Fi Channel” or “The Sci-Fi Channel sponsored by Emirates” confused some viewers into believing that Emirates owned or controlled the channel?
The regulator’s view seems to be that this would matter, as it would indicate a lack of transparency and a lack of clarity in relation to editorial independence. Ofcom appears to believe that it is important that the public should be clear as to just who the “broadcaster” is, as it is the broadcaster who has to be responsible for maintaining editorial control and ensuring programmes are not distorted for commercial purposes.
However, in the UK we already have channels owned by brands that are better recognised in another field – Saga, Hallmark and most recently Audi are all now Ofcom licensed broadcasters. With that in mind, many may ask whether any confusion caused by a name-in-title channel sponsorship should be seen as a serious concern, so long as the credits make the relationship transparent and the broadcaster is vigilant in maintaining its editorial independence.
The consultation period closes on 20 April 2006.