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Broadcasting: Product Placement

Volume 727: debated on Monday 16 May 2011


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of the uses to which the revenue received from product placement will be put by commercial broadcasters.

UK legislation does now allow for the placing of references to products, services or trade marks in television programmes in return for payment. However, most importantly, the use of any product placement revenues is a matter for individual commercial broadcasters.

I thank my noble friend the Minister for that Answer. I am sure she is aware that the BBC is now almost the sole provider of UK children’s television productions, and that, across the 30 channels, only 1 per cent of children’s programmes are made here in the UK. I am sure she is also aware that the commercial broadcasters use the restrictions on advertising during children’s programmes as a reason to stop commissioning children’s programmes, because of the loss of revenue. With product placement in mind, will the Minister consider encouraging the commercial broadcasters to take up their public service responsibility to children and to use some of the revenue from product placement to start commissioning children’s programmes once again?

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Benjamin for her enthusiasm on this subject. Her enthusiasm keeps the subject regularly on the agenda, for which we are very grateful. The Government understand the importance of children’s television and will carefully consider relevant responses to the forthcoming review of the communications sector. However, the Government are not seeking to impose any additional regulatory burdens on broadcasters. The decision on how to spend the revenue from placement is entirely in the hands of Ofcom.

Can the Minister tell me how, or if, the public will be notified of product placement? Will they be aware that the television programme they are watching has a specific product placement element in it? Will there be a notification?

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Gardner for that question. Following Ofcom’s introduction in 2011 of new rules for product placement on television, a large double P logo must appear on the screen for a minimum of three seconds at the start and the end of any programmes. The logo must also appear at the return of the programme following any advertising breaks.

My Lords, as the Minister will know, it is very much early days in the application of the new product placement rules. However, can she assure the House that the department will work very closely with Ofcom to ensure that children’s television remains solidly safeguarded from any creep towards the exploitation that product placement might entail?

My Lords, the noble Baroness is absolutely right. We believe that it is right to be cautious initially so as not to alienate viewers, and special safeguards have been put in place on what may be promoted in this way. Some, such as restrictions on product placement of alcohol and prescription medicines, are set out in European law, and some in the UK regulations—such as the restrictions on foods high in fat, salt and sugar, which largely match the current advertising restrictions.

My Lords, following the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, and given that we already have product placement, can we also encourage the feeding in of some of these resources to the production of quality radio for children? Surely this should be a particularly important area, not least because the BBC seems to be reneging somewhat on its commitment to quality radio programmes for children.

The noble Baroness has a good point. Although it is up to Ofcom to assess whether broadcasters are meeting their obligations on children’s television, which includes the wireless, we also look to the broadcasters to consider allocating perhaps a percentage of their product-placement income to areas such as the Open University and libraries, to encourage more reading.

Following the children’s television theme, I should point out that there are other potential sources of income—and I apologise in advance for using an acronym. If the CRR is abolished in the next Communications Act, ITV has undertaken to put extra money into British content. Does my noble friend agree that this undertaking should specifically include children’s programmes?

My Lords, we are very much aware of the possibility of more money going to children’s programmes. As I said, however, it is a matter for Ofcom.

Will the Minister consider asking Ofcom to specify a quota for children’s programmes? It could, of course, be updated from time to time. It would also ensure, in the public interest, that there is a sufficiency of children’s programmes. I think that that is something that the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, would like to see.

My Lords, I am sure that my noble friend Lady Benjamin and the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, would like to have more programmes for children, and more money going into those programmes. However, Ofcom is independent and it would be wrong if we started to try to influence it in any way.

I am afraid that I cannot remember the details of Ofcom’s regulatory process for people who transgress in this area.

My Lords, is it satisfactory simply to brush so much aside by saying, “This is a responsibility of Ofcom”? The broadcasting companies must have signed a contract, and if that contract had been satisfactory it would have included provision for an appropriate contribution to children’s programmes. Would the noble Baroness be good enough to enquire of Ofcom whether it is satisfied that these companies are fulfilling their contracts?

My Lords, the last Government created Ofcom as an independent regulator. As I think I said earlier, as much as we would like to encourage various different programmes and practices, Ofcom is an independent body.

My Lords, I am sure that the Minister will agree that the Welsh television channel S4C has an enviable record in the production of children’s programmes. Although the Government have no massive powers in this area, will they encourage the translation of more of those Welsh television programmes into the English language?

I am sure that the Government would love to be able to do that, and no doubt we can suggest something. I am sure that my noble friend Lord Roberts could write to them to suggest it.