June 11th, 2008

U.K. Shuts Out Product Placement

By Steve Clarke
Variety

Minister says it 'contaminates programs'

The U.K. media minister has attacked product placement in TV shows and said he will not allow the practice on British broadcasters even though it has been approved by the European Union.

The news is likely to infuriate TV companies, including beleaguered terrestrial giant ITV, which are all trying to find additional revenue streams as new media continues to make inroads into traditional advertising.

Andy Burnham, secretary of state at the Dept. of Culture, Media and Sport since January, dropped his bombshell Wednesday in his first big policy speech on broadcasting.

He said product placement would undermine the status that British TV enjoys internationally and “contaminate” programs.

He added, “There is a risk that, at the very moment when television needs to do all it can to show it can be trusted, that we elide the distinction between programs and adverts,” referring to the phone-in quiz scandals that rocked all British terrestrial webs last year.

“As a viewer, I don’t want to feel the script has been written by the commercial marketing director,” he added. “British programming has an integrity that is revered around the world, and I don’t think we should put that hard-won reputation up for sale.”

Last week, ITV topper Rupert Howell, in a speech about the new economics of TV, eagerly anticipated a time when U.K. television would be allowed to follow the U.S. example and use product placement.

Howell said it was vital to find new revenue streams soon and that product placement would be an important source of coin.

He said: “If we do it badly, people will switch off or switch over. We have to do it well. It will not be big, but it will be valuable.”

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