Ofcom warns TV broadcasters to be more careful around watershed

30 September 2011

Ofcom has today issued new guidance on the TV watershed, warning broadcasters to be more careful about programmes they show before 9pm that could be unsuitable for children.

This is part of Ofcom's ongoing work on the enforcement of the 9pm watershed, in line with its statutory duty to protect under-eighteens. The new guidance follows a series of recent meetings with broadcasters to ensure they are clear about the standards Ofcom expects from them.

The new guidance aims to help broadcasters comply with the Broadcasting Code rules for pre-watershed content, with specific focus on:

  • Programmes broadcast before and soon after the watershed; and
  • Music videos broadcast before the watershed.

Broadcasters are expected to pay particular attention to family viewing programmes, trailers and soaps. Ofcom advises broadcasters to take particular care with post-watershed content which has been edited for pre-watershed viewing, for example by masking or editing offensive language.


Ofcom regularly conducts research among parents to monitor the level of concerns about the content their children watch on television*. For example, fewer parents are now concerned about the TV programmes their children watch (31%) than they were in 2009 (36%).

Ofcom also measures parents' views about the time of the watershed and the amount of TV regulation**. 77% of parents think the watershed is at the right time, and 73% believe the amount of regulation of television is "about right".

In recent months Ofcom has investigated several cases involving pre-watershed material that it judged to be unsuitable - or close to the limits of acceptability - for children.

As a result, Ofcom has conducted new research into parents' and teenagers' views on pre-watershed TV programmes. This builds on Ofcom's existing research.

Parents' views

The new research, which is also published today, found that the majority (58%) of parents surveyed were not concerned by what their children had watched on television before 9pm in the last 12 months. One quarter (24%) of the parents surveyed said they were "fairly concerned", although fewer than one in ten (9%) said they were "very concerned".

The types of pre-watershed programmes that caused concern to the parents surveyed were soaps (14%) and film (14%), followed by reality programmes (12%) and music videos (11%).

21% of all parents surveyed mentioned concerns about nudity or sexual content, one in five (20%) were concerned about violence, and one in six (17%) had concerns about offensive language.

Teenagers' views

Just under a quarter (23%) of teenagers surveyed said that over the past 12 months they had seen something on TV before the watershed that had made them uncomfortable or had offended them.

Pre-watershed programmes that had caused teens concern were films (7%), soaps (6%), reality programmes (5%) and music videos (4%).

Sexually explicit content concerned 7% of teens surveyed, while 4% expressed concerns about offensive language, and 4% had concerns about violence.

Today's guidance draws on these new findings and sets out in detail the issues that TV broadcasters must consider carefully to ensure that children are protected from material that may be unsuitable for them, as required by the Broadcasting Code.



1. The new guidance and the detailed research findings are available on the Ofcom website.

2. Ofcom carried out the research in July 2011 to establish whether parents and teenagers (aged 12-17) had concerns about the watershed and music videos. The research was based on a sample of 1,054 parents and primary carers (as a weighted base this represents 1,175 parents and primary carers), and 768 teenagers aged 12-17.

3. The watershed starts at 21:00 and material unsuitable for children should not, in general, be shown before 21:00 or after 05:30.