Ofcom's new rules on product placement come into force

From today, product placement will be allowed on UK commercial television for the first time, as a result of the amended Ofcom Broadcasting Code (the “Code”) entering into force. The amended Code, which was published by Ofcom on 20 December 2010 following consultations with key stakeholders in 2009 and 2010, allows broadcasters to permit products to be placed in programmes, subject to a number of safeguards. These safeguards include:

• The prohibition of any product placement in news or children’s programmes, or in any programmes which do not fall within the ‘permitted genres’ of films, series made for television (or other audiovisual media services), sports programmes, and light entertainment programmes;
• The prohibition of alcoholic drinks, foods or drinks high in fat, salt or sugar, tobacco, cigarettes or prescription-only medicines from being placed; and
• A rule requiring that, where product placement occurs in a programme, this must be signalled to viewers at various points in the programme (i.e. at the start, the end, and at the recommencement of the programme after a commercial break) by way of a universal logo (below).

The Code also requires that product placement must not impair broadcasters’ editorial independence, and that any products should not be featured in an unduly prominent way within programmes. The amended Code also relaxes the rules relating to sponsorship of programming.
It will be interesting to monitor the impact of the new rules relating to product placement, particularly in light of criticisms from some stakeholders that the limitations on when and how products can be placed are overly restrictive. Whether this reform of advertising law is successful in providing the lucrative, and much-needed sources of revenue to key stakeholders in the advertising and media industries, remains to be seen.
This article first appeared in Law-Now, CMS Cameron McKenna's free online information service, and has been reproduced with their permission. For more information about Law-Now, please go to www.law-now.com