Ofcom strengthens adult chat TV rules

Tuesday, November 3 2009, 13:46 GMT

By Andrew Laughlin,

Ofcom has moved to strengthen the broadcasting rules governing the use of premium rate phone lines on participation TV (PTV) services, including the adult chat channels.

Coming into effect in early 2010, changes to the Broadcasting Code will mean that premium rate services (PRS) can only be used on TV and radio programming in an editorial capacity, such as voting or phone-in competitions.

Any company wishing to promote non-editorial PRS, however, will be deemed as advertising and therefore regulated under the Advertising Code.

The change of policy follows a consultation launched by Ofcom in 2007, which called for a stronger distinction to be drawn between editorial and advertising in programming.

High-profile shows incorporating public votes, such as Big Brother or Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?, will not be affected by the new policy.

Rather, the changes will mostly impact on the PTV offerings, such as psychic channels, specialist quizzes and adult chat (often called the 'babe channels'), where users phone a premium rate phone line to access services.

According to Ofcom, recent research has indicated that viewers generally accept PTV services as long as they are "appropriately scheduled, clearly labelled and identifiable". The public also want these channels to be placed in a designated section of the EPG so as to minimise "the risk of offence from chancing upon them".

Currently, the Advertising Code restricts the marketing of sexually-orientated PRS on encrypted channels, as well as the promotion of PRS featuring live psychic services.

However, the media regulator intends to update the Advertising Code to enable promotion of these services on television, but under strict guidelines to "prevent risk of harm for minors and vulnerable people".

The regulator will run a full consultation on the new arrangement before any changes are made to the Broadcasting or Advertising codes.