In an unprecedented move, the UK legislators decide to lift the ban on product placement on British TV shows recently. This change said to be “hugely overdue” is to be announced middle of September 2009. The new rule will allow independent broadcasters to display commercial products and accept payments for the advertisements in their shows.
The move is believed to infuse necessary fundings for the struggling TV industry. The huge amount of money that independent broadcasters will rake in will help the badly-hit TV industry stay afloat amidst the crippling recession. It could translate into a combined £100m additional income reflected in their financial statements each year.
However, the about-to-be-implemented rule does not include BBC shows as the ban on product placement would still be imposed on the world’s oldest and biggest broadcaster.
Culture Secretary Ben Bradshaw will make the necessary announcements (which ensued a three-month consultation) in his speech to the Royal Television a week from now.
An ITV spokesman called this move “reforming UK prohibition” which is “warmly welcomed by the commercial broadcasting industry and advertisers alike.”
His statement echoed the sentiments of the adherents to product placement:
“Reforming the UK prohibition would also be a welcome acknowledgement of the pressures currently faced by an industry in transition. New sources of revenue means better-funded content – which can only be good news for viewers.”
The same ITV spokesman claimed that ITV spearheaded the campaign for product placement in the UK.
‘Serious Concerns’ on Possible Ramifications
The approval of product placements in British TV shows did not come without glitches. Former culture secretary Andy Burnham just declared in March this year that there are “serious concerns” regarding product placement which could possibly cast doubts on the editorial independence of the content of the show.
Burnham’s view is shared by many. Steven Barnett, University of Westminster professor of communications, admonished that it could cause confusion to the viewers regarding which part was “integral to the plot” and which was considered “as some kind or promotional device”.
He added that the choice would fall on the shoulders of the programme makers which could sometimes be influenced.
It could lead to a situation where a programme or independent broadcaster desperate for cash would make deals with an advertiser that might compromise the integrity of the show. “That’s the point at which I think we need to be clear about the boundaries between genuine creative independence and advertiser pressure.”
However, the economic woes plaguing UK had forced the government to rethink their strategies particulary on the strict rule. They now see product placement as a feasible move in certain cases.
A spokesman for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport declared that the rule had lessened UK’s competitive edge.
Product placement would most likely help popular TV series like Coronation Street and Britain’s Got Talent. Currently, they are required to conceal the product labels they use in the shows. Either that or they face penalties.
Channel 4’s Big Brother is also seen to benefit from the said ban-lifting as the logos of food and drinks in the house are carefully hidden from the public at present.
The strict rule, however, would remain enforced in BBC shows and in all children’s programmes in all networks.
Peter Bazalgette, the creator of Big Brother, called the move “hugely overdue”. He predicted the placement to generate additional £100m revenues each year for commercial TV.
As to the issue that it might compromise TV content, “Product placement needs to be done transparently, with credits that make it clear it has taken place.”
Bazalgette believed that the consumers will have the last say. “But you have to trust the consumer. If it’s overdone or tasteless, viewers will switch off.”
He further noted that the practice was rampant in British television already. Product placement in movies shown in TV and in imported American TV shows and dramas occurred frequently.
He also observed that in sports events, sponsors’ logos were even displayed prominently on the players’ shirts. He believed “Product placement won’t dramatically change the way we watch TV.”