On 17 December 2013, BCAP issued a new guidance note on the scheduling of TV advertisements for age-restricted products, such as alcohol, gambling and HFSS products. The guidelines prescribe a standard model that broadcasters should use in determining whether a programme is directed at or likely to appeal to a younger audience. This can then assist in ensuring that children are not exposed to advertisements for such products.
Earlier this year, Ofcom published research that demonstrated an increase in children and young persons’ exposure to alcohol advertising on TV. BCAP responded to Ofcom’s research by undertaking a detailed review of the existing guidance on advertisement scheduling practices. Their work involved in-depth discussions with broadcasters. The ASA also undertook investigations to establish if there have been any recent breaches of the scheduling rules. BCAP used the ASA’s findings in drafting the new guidance.
It is as a result of this work that BCAP has published this new, and very detailed, guidance on the approach broadcasters should take when scheduling advertisements.
The existing CAP rules (that remain unchanged) require that certain products such as alcohol should not be scheduled in programmes that are directed at or that are likely to appeal to a young audience. The guidance provides useful clarification as to how broadcasters can use data to assess whether a programme is “likely to appeal” to a particular age group. A “standard model” is prescribed. This requires that audience indexing should be used, and used appropriately (i.e. recent and comparable data should be used where possible). In addition, broadcasters should take into account other immediate factors in reaching their decision. Such factors include the time of day, time of year and channel profile. It is also recommended that audience data should be taken from a period of four weeks unless the exceptions apply.
The guidance makes it very clear that broadcasters need to be able to substantiate all advertising scheduling decisions. In the event of any complaint, the ASA will look in detail at the broadcaster’s justification of the scheduling of the advert in question.
The ASA recently considered the scheduling of an alcohol advertisement on Channel 5 during the Sunday morning programme, “Monkey Life”. A complaint was raised that the programme has been inappropriately scheduled as the programme would be likely to appeal to children. Channel 5 justified its decision by relying on the average index from recent transmissions in similar time slots. The ASA was satisfied that audience indexing was appropriate and that the data used by Channel 5 was comparable. The complaint was not upheld.
It is hoped that the guidance will assist broadcasters in legitimately limiting children’s access to adverts for alcohol and other age-restricted products, whilst not disproportionately limiting advertisers’ from reaching a suitable audience for their products.
Both broadcasters and advertisers should familiarise themselves with the new guidelines. The ASA has made a commitment to continue its programme of enhanced monitoring of advertisement scheduling over the next 12 months. Fully understanding the new guidance and amending relevant policies will help to defend any scheduling complaints that may arise.
We can expect the focus on the scheduling of TV adverts to continue over the next year. BCAP has signalled its intention to review the findings from the ASA’s ongoing investigations. This information will assist BCAP in assessing how well the guidelines are working and it is possible that BCAP will make further amendments to the guidelines in due course.