Consumer groups hope ban remains on product placement

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The Independent Online

Consumer groups have come out strongly against allowing advertisers to pay for their products to be featured within television programmes, in response to a consultation on the issue undertaken by the media regulator Ofcom.

The BBC, which is not funded by advertising, also lobbied against relaxing the rules on product placement, saying it "could significantly damage the editorial integrity of programmes".

Equity, the trade union for actors and others in the entertainment industry, warned that the US experience showed that product placement could turn to "the increasingly insidious use of product integration".

Ofcom published responses to its consultation exercise on whether the ban on product placement in the UK should be eased or lifted. The media watchdog was responding to a proposal made by the European Commission late last year to prohibit product placement.

The UK's commercial broadcasters told Ofcom that the restrictions should go; such a move could be worth up to £100m a year to UK broadcasters.

The biggest commercial broadcaster, ITV, said: "For ITV, product placement would not only provide an additional (if modest) source of revenue, but would also help us to maintain current advertiser investment in television against other competing media.

"As part of the 360-degree view that advertisers are increasingly seeking, product placement would allow us to build better relationships with advertisers... And, by helping ITV retain revenues, product placement would help to maintain the current levels of investment in original production."

ITV urged Ofcom not to wait for the Brussels ruling on the issue, arguing that the UK regulator was already free to lift product placement restrictions in this country. The broadcaster agreed, however, with the European Commission that existing rules that bar "undue prominence" given to products should stay.

The National Consumer Council said that Ofcom should not allow even "limited and controlled" product placement. The NCC said that the move "will be to the detriment of viewers and their trust in the quality and integrity of UK broadcasting... There is a fundamental and irreconcilable gap between advertisers' ultimate expectations of 'prominent' product placement, and viewers' concerns about... frequent product placement." The Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom said: "The US experience shows clearly the ineffectiveness of regulations governing PP and the disregard... towards what rules remain."

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