Media Law – Landmark decision to lift ban on television product placement

Product placement will be allowed on UK terrestrial television programmes under new legislation announced by the Government on 9 February 2010. In his statement, Culture, Media and Sport Secretary Ben Bradshaw said that maintaining a ban on television product placement would “jeopardise the competitiveness” of UK programme makers “at a time when this crucial part of our creative industries needs all the help we can give it.”

This decision follows the introduction of the Audiovisual Media Regulations 2009 on 19 December 2009, which allowed some product placement in ‘on-demand’ television and television-like services. However, until this week’s Government announcement, there were no exceptions to the prohibition on television product placement. The question of television product placement has proved a contentious issue, with many stakeholders expressing concerns about the potential adverse impact on the editorial independence of broadcasters and on viewers’ trust in what they see on television. The strength of opinion is evident in that the Government received almost 1480 responses during its recent consultation.

For this reason, the Government has decided to “proceed with caution” and has decided to introduce further safeguards beyond those set out in the AVMS Regulations 2009. Products and services such as alcohol, food and drinks high in fat, salt and sugar (HFSS), infant follow-on milk and gambling will all be excluded from the new product placement rules, and BBC licence funded programmes will also remain unaffected.

Further, it is significant that the new rules will not take effect immediately, as the Government want to give Ofcom the opportunity to run a public consultation and make detailed changes to its Code. However, it is anticipated that shows including product placement will be being shown on terrestrial TV by the end of the year, in what could herald a new era for television advertising and broadcasting.

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