November 17th, 2008
ITV Presses for Product Placement
By Ben Fenton
Financial Times UK
Two of the leading forces in independent television production joined forces on Monday to press UK ministers to allow product placement, saying a ban threatens investment in a vital domestic industry.
ITV and Pact, the trade body for the £1bn UK independent production sector, issued a proposed code of practice for placement – where the owners of commercial brands can pay to have their products featured in dramas and comedies.
It is outlawed in the UK, but could be allowed after a European Union decision to permit member states to make their own laws. Andy Burnham, culture secretary, said earlier this year at the start of a consultation period on product placement that he was minded to retain the ban, but consultation is continuing.
ITV believes that allowing it could add tens of millions to its annual revenues at a time when advertising markets risk shrinking by as much as 10 per cent next year.
Under the proposed code of conduct for producers and broadcasters viewers would know from a logo in the corner of the screen that a programme was partly funded by product placement.
The programme’s producer would decide if a particular product could be used and how prominently, not the sponsoring company. A separate commercial team would be used to approach potential brand owners after the script had been completed, assuring editorial independence.
Rupert Howell, the commercial director of ITV, said: “At a time when investment in UK-originated content is under threat, introducing paid-for product placement on television will allow producers to develop new sources of revenue so they can continue to invest.”
Alastair Roberts, head of corporate development at Endemol, the producer of Big Brother, said: “The playing field is already uneven in the sense that you can switch on the telly in the UK and watch something like Desperate Housewives [a US series], which is chock-full of product placement.”
Pact said that two other companies operating in the UK, Virgin Media and Discovery, were “very supportive” of the plan.
Medwyn Jones, media partner at the legal firm Harbottle & Lewis, highlighted the alleged absurdity of the present rules, under which producers can accept expensive props as gifts in kind, but not direct sponsorship. “The government is slightly missing the point because, currently, if you have an ordinary drama in which you have to smash up five cars and Ford is prepared to give them to you free, as long as they don’t linger on the logos, they can be used.”
He added: “But if you have to have a mobile phone in a shot and Sony Ericsson pays you to make sure it is one of theirs, that is not allowed.”
Mr Jones said several UK production houses were considering moving to other European countries which are set to allow product placement under the new EU relaxation.