Broadcasters lick lips as product placement lands

British TV is going the way of US channels – but with stricter rules. Nick Clark reports

In popular US television series Chuck, where an everyday guy is transformed into a super spy, the cast appear to be almost exclusively nourished by sandwiches from a popular fast food chain. Subway's product placement deal to finance Chuck in return for screen time in May last year convinced network NBC to renew the show, and characters are munching on "footlongs" well into the fourth season.

Product placement will be hitting the UK for the first time at the end of February, the communications watchdog confirmed yesterday. In sharp contrast to the US, and shows like Chuck, there will be heavy restrictions on what can be shown, including a ban on fast food.

Ofcom said: "Both sets of rules will enable commercial broadcasters to access new sources of revenue whilst providing protection for audiences."

After a drawn-out consultation process, which started in June 2009, the regulator finally published its rules for product placement on TV and paid-for references to brands and products on radio yesterday.

The UK's largest broadcasters broadly backed the new rules. A spokeswoman for ITV said the network "welcomes today's announcement and will now work closely with clients and producers on plans for the implementation of product placement in 2011."

Channel 4 was more circumspect, saying: "The quality and editorial integrity of all C4 programming remains our primary consideration and we will consider product placement only on the principle that the programme editorial comes first."

The regulator's move to draw up product placement rules follows the previous Government's change in legislation governing the issue in April. This in turn followed a liberalisation of European broadcasting legislation in 2007.

While there is nothing in the final document that surprised the industry, after a long consultation and well-publicised initial findings, 28 February will now be a significant day for the television industry. Mark Popkiewicz, the chief executive and founder of MirriAd, the digital product placement group, said: "We welcome the code; it levels the playing field with the rest of the world. This extra revenue stream will be key for under-pressure producers and broadcasters. It is very good news."

Ofcom's rules will keep a tight grip on product placement, with restrictions on the type of products that can make it to the screen, which programmes they can be placed in and limits in how they can be seen and referred to. With radio, the rules, which went live yesterday, will force any paid-for product references or brands to be clearly flagged to the station's listeners.

The regulator said that product placement on TV will be allowed in films, including dramas and documentaries, television series including soaps, entertainment shows and sports programmes.

"But it will be prohibited in all children's and news programmes and in UK-produced current affairs, consumer affairs and religious programmes," it said.

Yet producers will not be able to tap a series of industries for funding. Under UK legislation, placement of tobacco, alcohol and gambling are banned, as are medicines, baby milk, and food or drinks that are high in fat, salt or sugar. So, said one industry insider, do not expect Stella Artois to be on tap at the Rovers Return in Coronation Street.

Ofcom said it has also banned the paid-for placement of products that cannot be advertised on UK television, such as weapons or escort agencies.

One industry expert said: "These rules are much tighter than regulation in the US. It won't be like American Idol; Cheryl Cole won't be sitting on The X Factor sipping Coca Cola."

Mr Popkiewicz said: "We are perplexed at why there are different rules to the advertising legislation. Some products can't be placed in television shows, but there can be advertising of those products around the shows."

The rules say that product placement "must not impair broadcasters' editorial independence and must always be editorially justified. This means that programmes cannot be created or distorted so that they become vehicles for the purposes of featuring product placement."

A spokesman for the regulator said it is working on a logo that will appear at the start of programmes with product placement for a minimum of three seconds as well as the end. It will also appear following the return from every advertising break.

The next two months will see broadcasters ready themselves for the new rules as well as launch an audience awareness campaign overseen by Ofcom.

In the US, product placement runs at about 5 per cent of total advertising spending. Translating that into UK spending would see it total £150m. Mr Popkiewicz said: "It could be many times more than that if it proves a popular and easy way of advertising."

One insider at a large UK commercial broadcaster was less bullish, saying that its product placement revenues for next year were more likely to be closer to £1m. "There will be some placement that gets into daytime shows and soaps, but there is a longer lead time for drama," the source said, adding: "The real benefits should come through in 2012."

Separately, the regulator is to liberalise TV sponsorship rules. Advertisers will be allowed to place products in the shows they are sponsoring, and their logos will be able to appear briefly during transmission.

The question remains whether consumers will accept advertising in their favourite shows. Mr Popkiewicz said: "There is obviously a bit of give and take, they have to make sure the product is right for the show. Audiences are entitled to push back if they don't like it." Yet, he added that some audiences have welcomed product placement. "Many are perplexed by the fake brands that appear in shows, they believe it is not a natural reflection of life."

A survey carried out in August for Deloitte found six out of 10 UK viewers would welcome product placement if it meant more free content or cheaper premium television. It estimated that first-year revenues would be in the "low tens of millions".

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Neil Pavier: Management Accountant

£45,000 - £55,000: Neil Pavier: Are you looking for your next opportunity for ...

Sheridan Maine: Commercial Accountant

£45,000 - £55,000: Sheridan Maine: Are you a newly qualified ACA/ACCA/ACMA qua...

Laura Norton: Project Accountant

£50,000 - £60,000: Laura Norton: Are you looking for an opportunity within a w...

Day In a Page

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?