Sky ads misled because it couldn't connect customers in time, rules regulator

Out-Law News | 02 Sep 2009 | 4:49 pm | 2 min. read

Broadcaster Sky should have made sure it could connect all users in time before it heavily promoted its high definition (HD) television service with adverts for its coverage of major rugby and cricket events, the advertising regulator has said.

British Sky Broadcasting's Sky satellite television service bought the rights to show the British and Irish Lions' summer tour of South Africa and the Ashes series of cricket matches between England and Australia.

It advertised heavily around those sports events and used them to entice potential customers to subscsribe to its high definition service.

"Despairing one moment believing the next. It can only be an Ashes summer," said one newspaper advert. "Prepare for the Ashes to take over your summer. Experience every ball, every magnificent Aussie wicket, every screamed appeal, live and in glorious High Definition."

Viewers complained to advertising regulator the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) that the adverts were misleading because of a 12 week waiting period. Applying when the ads were shown, the potential subscribers would not be given the service in time to watch all of the sporting events advertised.

Sky said that the waiting period was due to high levels of demand. "Sky said, during the period the TV and press ads were live, there was a high demand for Sky+HD boxes amongst existing customers," said the ASA ruling on the issue. "They said wait times for pre-registered customers during that period were anticipated to be on average seven weeks and, in order to alert customers to the pre-registration process, they had included on-screen text in the TV ads stating 'pre-registration may be required'."

Sky later altered its on-screen text on television adverts to say that installation may occur after the Ashes had begun.

The ASA investigated the complaints and found that the ads were misleading.

"We understood the Lions tour had run from the 20 June to the 4 July and the Ashes tournament ran from the 8 July to the 24 August and noted that a 12-week period from mid April would have meant installation in mid July, whereas one from mid May would mean installation in mid August and from mid June would mean installation in mid September," said its ruling.

"Because the TV ads stated 'See every moment of this summer's Ashes in High Definition ...' and 'See every moment of the Lions tour in High Definition ...' and the press ad stated 'Prepare for the Ashes to take over your summer. Experience every ball, every magnificent Aussie wicket, every screamed appeal, live and in glorious High Definition...' whereas wait times for installation meant this was unlikely to be the case for all existing Sky customers who signed up for the service, we concluded the ads were likely to mislead," it said.

The adverts were cleared with pre-screening body Clearcast before broadcast, but while Clearcast was satisfied that the sports events in question were live on Sky and nowhere else it said that it had not anticipated that Sky might not be able to provide the service it was advertising in time.