Government outlines product placement plans after U-turn

Out-Law News | 16 Nov 2009 | 2:50 pm | 3 min. read

The Government has outlined its plans to introduce product placement to UK television broadcasts despite saying in March that it would not be introduced.

The Audio Visual Media Services (AVMS) Directive, which replaced the Television Without Frontiers Directive, allows product placement in some categories of programme. The Government consulted last year on the issue and concluded that it was not a good idea. It has now reversed that decision and ha said that it wants to see payment for the inclusion or mention of goods or services in programming introduced here.

"The Government concluded [in March] that the balance of argument was against changing UK regulation to permit UK television broadcasters to include product placement in their programmes," said its current consultation. "We are now reconsidering the position. The Government is currently minded to permit product placement on UK television, subject to safeguards.

The Government said, though, that it still believed that there were dangers involved in introducing product placement. "We remain concerned in particular about the potential health issues associated with the promotion of particular types of goods by means of product placement. If television product placement of these types of product is to be permitted it will be important to ensure that any impacts that this has on health or welfare are rigorously monitored," it said.

Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport Ben Bradshaw said that a factor involved in changing the Government's mind was the commercial difficulty that broadcasters found themselves in amidst falling advertising revenues.

"There is no doubt that commercial broadcasters are suffering in this challenging economic climate, with the sharp decline in advertising revenue well documented," he said. "Programme makers have argued that our current stance on product placement will put them at a competitive disadvantage against international rivals, particularly from the US."

Current rules say that UK channels cannot show programmes with product placement if they have been made by or for them.

“Most EU member states have now decided that they will allow product placement. I want to ensure that UK broadcasters do not suffer through being overly strictly regulated. But at the same time, there must be adequate safeguards to address concerns that relaxing the rules will threaten the trust of viewers and the integrity of programming," said Bradshaw.

The EU Directive says that countries cannot allow product placement in news and current affairs or children's programmes. The BBC's charter bars it from carrying product placement.

An important issue, said the Government's consultation, will be how viewers are informed of placement.

"If television product placement is to be allowed, the AVMS Directive requires that placements ‘shall be appropriately identified at the start and the end of the programme, and when the programme resumes after an advertising break, in order to avoid any confusion on the part of the viewer’," it said. "

"Product placement could be indicated by a script appearing on the screen, or by a logo, by a spoken announcement, or perhaps in other ways. These (and other) alternatives would not be mutually exclusive – there could for example be both a logo and a spoken announcement. There might also need to be quite specific rules about, for example, how much screen space an announcement about product placement should take up, and how long it should stay on screen," it said.

The Government will also consider forcing channels to identify exactly what products have been placed within programmes.

"There are also questions about what a script or announcement might say," said the consultation. "It could refer simply to the fact that the programme contains product placement (for example, ‘This programme contains product placement’) Or it could say something about what was placed (for example, (for example, ‘This programme contains product placement of Product X’) or who placed it (’This programme contains product placement by the Advertiser Y')."

"A relevant consideration here might be that a mention of what has been placed, and /or by whom it was placed, could itself amount to promotion of the goods or services which were placed. But it can also be argued that precise identification of this kind is in the interests of transparency and viewer awareness," it said.

The Government said that the rules would be enforced by current media regulator Ofcom. Ofcom last month extended its own review of product placement after the Government indicated that it had changed its mind.

Ofcom had previously estimated that channels could earn £25 million to £30m a year from product placement. The Government said industry had told it that this estimate was "about right".