TV product placement rules to be relaxed

Monday, September 14 2009, 10:20 BST

By Andrew Laughlin,

The government will this week propose a relaxation of the rules governing commercial product placement on British television shows, according to reports.

Under the new arrangements, independent broadcasters would be able to accept payments from companies to feature their products on TV programmes.

The move is designed to boost broadcaster revenues and offset the declining advertising income and tough conditions they currently face in the industry. Some experts predict that it would usher in around 125 million of fresh revenue.

Product placement is already a regular feature on US television, with recent research by Neilsen indicating that 117,976 placements were broadcast on the top 11 American TV channels in the first quarter of 2008. For example, American Idol is believed to have a multi-million dollar yearly deal with Coca-Cola under which the judges are shown drinking from branded cups.

Previously, British broadcasters have had to create fictional products to feature on shows, including Newton & Ridley beer in Coronation Street, or painstakingly conceal existing logos and brand names, such as with the shopping on Big Brother.

In March, then culture secretary Andy Burnham expressed "very serious concerns" about lifting the product placement ban as it could blur the boundaries between advertising and editorial.

However, incumbent culture secretary Ben Bradshaw is expected to confirm a three-month consultation on the regulation changes during a speech this week to the Royal Television Society. Bradshaw said that the policy u-turn is because the "climate has changed" in the TV industry.

The new arrangement would only apply to commercial broadcasters, with public operators remaining exempt, while product placement is also likely to remain banned on certain programmes, particularly those aimed at children.

Welcoming the development, an ITV spokesman described it as reforming the "UK prohibition" which would bring an important new revenue stream in line with existing approaches around the world.

"If the government does decide to permit product placement, it will be warmly welcomed by the commercial broadcasting industry and advertisers alike," he said.

"Reforming the UK prohibition would also be a welcome acknowledgement of the pressures currently faced by an industry in transition. New sources of revenue mean better-funded content - which can only be good news for viewers."

However, the proposal has not met with universal acceptance. Dave Turtle, spokesman for social responsibility campaign group Mediawatch UK, told The Guardian: "We shouldn't be using television programmes to push a product.

"We're not saying no to all product placement, but broadcasters need to be responsible about which audiences they're selling to and what. Self-regulation isn't working. Do we really want to go down the American road where you're bombarded constantly?"