From 28 February 2011, product placement will be permitted in UK-produced television programmes for the first time. As the date draws near, Ofcom is making its final plans for the introduction of product placement and has now unveiled two new details:
- A new logo that broadcasters will have to display in connection with any UK-produced television programme containing product placement. In order to comply with the Broadcasting Code, the logo will need to appear for three seconds at the start and end of programmes and after any advertising breaks. Broadcasters will be allowed to adapt the logo slightly in accordance with Ofcom guidelines to enable its use on either dark or light backgrounds.
- An awareness campaign to explain the change in the rules, the meaning of the new logo and to direct consumers to Ofcom's new product placement webpage. Broadcasters intending to use product placement will have to broadcast an awareness ad at least a week before they first show a television programme featuring product placement.
These details represent the final pieces towards implementing what is an important but contentious landmark in UK television. When the EU Audiovisual Media Services Directive was published permitting some product placement, the then Government's initial reaction was to reject the product placement outright. However, following a change in Government, there was a rethink and last year it was announced that product placement would be permitted albeit with some restrictions. The UK has opted to adopt a tighter regime than the minimum standards set by the EU in respect of UK-produced programming:
- Product placement will be allowed in films, TV series, entertainment and sports programmes but is prohibited in all UK-produced children's and news programmes as well as current affairs, consumer advice and religious programmes.
- Product placement of tobacco and prescription – only medicine is prohibited for all programmes in accordance with European legislation but the UK rules go further in relation to UK-produced programmes. For these programmes, the rules will also prohibit product placement of alcohol, gambling, food and drinks high in fat, salt or sugar, all medicines and baby mixture. Products that are generally prohibited from being promoted on TV, such as weapons and escort services, are subject to an equivalent ban on product placement.
- In addition to displaying the new logo, broadcasters will need to take care how product placement is edited into programming. The rules specify that any product placement cannot directly promote or endorse products or give them undue prominence. It also must not affect the editorial integrity of the programme so it is not possible to distort the programme or create storylines around a product.
The new regime will not affect product placement in foreign-made TV programmes and films. These are already permitted under the Broadcasting Code and their position remains unchanged. However, this means that there will still be a two-tier system for product placement on television depending on the origin of the programme.
There will also be a separate, more relaxed, regime for product placement in on demand programmes. It follows the same principles as for television but only restricts rather than prohibits product placement of alcohol and does not specifically prohibit its use in relation to food and drinks high in fat, salt or sugar, non-prescription medicines or gambling. The rules around how and when service providers need to signal the use of product placement in a programme are also more flexible than the new regime proposed by Ofcom. The logo is not a requirement for on demand programmes.
As the launch of product placement approaches, broadcasters and content providers need to be ready to take advantage of the new opportunities by:
- liaising with Ofcom on co-operation with the awareness campaign and adoption of the new logo; and
- navigating successfully through the fragmented approach to product placement for different types of programming to ensure they can extract maximum commercial value without infringing any of the new rules.