Rules for product placement on TV and paid-for references to brands and products on radio

20 December 2010

Product placement will be allowed in UK TV programmes for the first time, Ofcom confirmed today. From 28 February 2011, paid-for references for products and services will be permitted in programmes.

To allow this, Ofcom has published the rules governing product placement, including what can and can't be shown. Ofcom has also liberalised the rules on paid-for references to brands and products in radio programmes.

Both sets of rules will enable commercial broadcasters to access new sources of revenue, whilst providing protection for audiences.

The rules include:

  • restrictions on the types of products that can be placed;
  • restrictions on the types of programmes in which products can be placed; and
  • limits on the way in which products can be seen and referred to in programmes.

The TV rules reflect new UK legislation. This followed the Government's decision earlier this year to allow product placement in UK TV programmes, as a result of changes to European broadcasting legislation.

For radio, Ofcom has revised the rules on paid-for references to products and services in programmes. The new rules, which take effect today, protect listeners by making sure that any commercial arrangements that result in on-air references to products or brands are made clear to the audience.

The revised rules for TV and radio will be incorporated in their own sections within Ofcom's Broadcasting Code, the rulebook for the broadcasting industry. Until 28 February 2010 product placement on TV remains prohibited in UK-produced programmes.

Product placement on TV

Product placement is the paid-for placement of products, services and trade marks in TV programmes.

Where products can be shown

Product placement will be allowed in films (including dramas and documentaries), TV series (including soaps), entertainment shows and sports programmes. But it will be prohibited in all children’s and news programmes and in UK-produced current affairs, consumer affairs and religious programmes.

Restrictions on product placement

The product placement of tobacco, alcohol, gambling, foods or drinks that are high in fat, salt or sugar, medicines and baby milk is banned by UK legislation. Ofcom has also prohibited the paid-for placement of products and services that cannot be advertised on television, such as weapons or escort agencies. All these prohibitions are reflected in Ofcom's new rules.

The rules state that product placement must not impair broadcasters' editorial independence and must always be editorially justified. This means that programmes cannot be created or distorted so that they become vehicles for the purposes of featuring product placement.

European and UK legislation also requires that placed products and services cannot be promoted or endorsed, or be featured in an unduly prominent way within programmes.

Making product placement transparent

Following the introduction of new rules for product placement on TV, viewers will see a new product placement logo on their screens.

The logo, which Ofcom will issue in the New Year, must appear for a minimum of three seconds at the start and end of programmes so that viewers know which UK-produced programmes contain product placement. The logo must also appear at the return of the programme following any advertisement breaks.

Commercial TV stations who intend to broadcast programmes containing product placement will launch an audience awareness campaign in the New Year. Ofcom will oversee this. This will include short information slots within the advertisement breaks of popular programmes.

TV sponsorship

The introduction of product placement has also given Ofcom the opportunity to liberalise some of the TV sponsorship rules. This means that sponsors will be able to product place in programmes they are sponsoring, and sponsor's logos will be able to appear as brief sponsorship credits during programmes.

Commercial references on radio

The new rules for radio take effect today. Previously, the only commercial references allowed were sponsorship credits around programmes, and advertisements broadcast in commercial breaks. The new rules will permit commercial references to be integrated within programming. However, broadcasters will have to ensure that listeners are always aware when promotions are paid-for.

However, paid-for references to brands and products in news and children's programming will remain prohibited.

The full documents can be found here:

Broadcasting Code Review - Commercial references in television programming - statement:

Broadcasting Code Review - Commercial communications in radio programming - statement: