Children’s and young people’s exposure to alcohol advertising
This report sets out the findings of analysis examining trends in young people's exposure to television advertising of alcoholic products between 2007 and 2011. The analysis looks at trends among children aged 4-15 (including sub-groups of 4-9 and 10-15 year olds) and adults aged 16-24 (including the sub-group 16-17 year olds1). The report looks at how the amount of advertising seen by these demographic groups has changed and considers this in the context of changes in viewing habits and the volume of advertising shown on commercial television channels.
There have long been concerns about the possible effects on children's attitude towards alcohol that exposure to alcohol advertising might have. In 1999, these led the then television regulator, the Independent Television Commission, to require that alcohol advertising be excluded from programmes deemed likely to be of 'particular appeal' to children.
The identification of programmes of particular appeal to children is done by reference to the predicted proportion of the audience comprising 10-15 year olds for particular programmes. A programme of "particular appeal" to children is deemed to be one that attracts an audience in which 10-15 year olds are over-represented by 20% in relation to their share of the total TV audience. Such a programme would index at 120. For the purposes of deciding when alcohol ads should be excluded from a programme, broadcasters estimate how it is likely to index on the basis of experience and audience data for similar programmes in the past. BARB (the Broadcasters' Audience Research Bureau) provides data on audiences after programmes are broadcast.2
In 2005, Ofcom entered into co-regulatory arrangements with the Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice (BCAP), which has lead responsibility for keeping advertising rules under review, and the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), which is responsible for securing compliance with those rules. As the backstop regulator, Ofcom retains responsibility for approving changes to the advertising rules. Later in 2005, following the publication of the then Government's Alcohol Harm Reduction Strategy3, the Advertising Code was strengthened with the aim of reducing the general appeal of alcohol ads to young persons, especially under-age drinkers, by prohibiting the use of advertising techniques that linked alcohol consumption to:
- youth culture;
- sex, sexual activity or sexual success;
- aggressive, anti-social or irresponsible behaviour;
or that depicted irresponsible handling or serving of alcohol.
In 2007, Ofcom and the ASA commissioned joint research on children's exposure to alcohol advertising and their attitudes to it. The results, published in Young People and Alcohol Advertising, showed a decline between 2002 and 2006 in exposure of children to alcohol commercials on television4. It also noted some positive indications of changes in behaviour.
Research commissioned by Ofcom
In March 2012, following the publication of the Government's Alcohol Strategy5, Ofcom commissioned analysis of children's exposure to TV alcohol advertising between 2007 and 2011, in order to provide more up to date evidence. The results of that research are set out in the remainder of this document. In the light of the Government's proposal that advertising should be excluded from programmes of 'high appeal' to children, Ofcom also commissioned analysis of the top 50 programmes by age group; the results are set out in Annex 2.
1.3 The changing context: viewing trends and advertising activity
The average time children and young people spent watching television in 2011 ranged from 2.1 to 2.8 hours a day. The split in viewing between BBC/children's channels and 'adult'6 commercial airtime has remained fairly stable over the years with an almost 50/50 split among 4-15 year olds. 'Adult' commercial viewing is higher among 16-24 and 16-17 year olds, accounting for around three-quarters of viewing.
Children's viewing to 'adult' commercial airtime peaked during the 20:00-20:59 time slot in 2011 - this has shifted slightly since 2007 when viewing peaked between the 19:00-19:59 timeslot suggesting more children are watching later into the evening. Viewing to 'adult' commercial airtime increased gradually over the course of the day among 16-24 and 16-17 year olds, peaking later in the evening between 21:00-21:59.
In 2011, almost three-quarters of children's viewing took place pre-21:00 and just over a quarter took place post-21:00, with much of this during the first hour or so after 21:00. Among 16-24 and 16-17 year olds, over a third of viewing took place post-21:00.
As viewing to channels 3, 4 and 5 has declined over the years, viewing to their portfolio channels has increased. Over the analysis period viewing to sports, music and movie channels has remained fairly stable. Channels 3, 4 and 5 tend to dominate viewing during peak hours, while their portfolio channels represent a greater proportion of viewing post-21:00.
Supplementary analysis commissioned by Ofcom shows that many of the programmes attracting the largest audiences among children are programmes aimed largely at adult audiences shown in family viewing time (see Annex 2). Most of these programmes index below 120, and so may carry alcohol advertising, although not all do.
In 2011, alcohol spots accounted for 2.0% of all commercial spots aired, compared with 1.6% in 2007. In 2011, 659,000 alcohol advertising television spots were aired - this is compared with 418,000 in 2007 and 748,000 in 2010. The distribution of alcohol spots increased gradually over the day, peaking during the post-21:00 period.
Almost half (49.1%) of all alcohol spots were broadcast between 06:00-20:59 in 2011, and this proportion has remained fairly stable over time. A further quarter (24.5%) of all alcohol spots were broadcast between 21:00-23:59, peaking during the 23:00-23:59 slot (8.5% of all alcohol spots).
While channels 3, 4 and 5 accounted for just over 1% of all alcohol spots in 2011, sports channels, music channels, and the channel 3, 4 and 5 portfolio channels each accounted for over 10% of all alcohol spots. In 2011, spot distribution varied across channels across the day with above average proportions of alcohol spots shown on portfolio and 'other' channels during pre-21:00 peak hours. Post-21:00 there was a marked increase in the proportion of spots accounted for by music channels.
Alcohol advertising represented 2% of total UK advertising and total UK television advertising expenditure in 2011. Following a dip in expenditure during 2009, alcohol advertising spend increased on television and across the internet, with television accounting for almost half of all spend.
Compared with the split in advertising spend across all categories, alcohol advertisers apportion a greater share of spend to television, cinema and outdoor commercials.
Channels 3, 4 and 5 represented 45.4% of all alcohol television advertising spend in 2011. Over the analysis period, this share has declined, but the share of spend on the portfolio and sports channels has increased.
1.4 Changes in the amount of alcohol advertising seen by children and young people
In 2011, alcohol advertising accounted for 1.4% of all television advertising seen by children aged 4-15 and 2.2% of all advertising seen by 16-24 year olds; this figure varies across the day, rising to over 3% of commercial advertising seen post-21:00. The proportion of all commercial advertising seen that was represented by alcohol advertising ranged from 1.3% in 2009 to 1.7% in 2010 among children - among 16-24 year olds the share ranged from 1.9% in 2009 to 2.6% in 2010.
In 2007, 1.3bn impacts7 were seen by children aged 4-15, a share of 1.4% of all commercial advertising seen - this figure increased to 1.7bn impacts in 2010 (1.7% of all commercial advertising seen) followed by a small decline in 2011 to 1.4bn impacts (1.4% of all commercial advertising seen). In comparison, 1.7bn alcohol impacts were seen by 16-24 year olds in 2007 (2.1% of all television advertising seen) - this increased to 2.6bn impacts in 2010 and then fell slightly to 2.2bn impacts in 2011.
Figures suggest that in 2011 a child aged 4-15 watched, on average, 227 commercials each week and 3.2 of these were for alcohol products; in comparison, they watched 201 commercials a week in 2007 - 2.7 of which were for alcohol. Exploring the years in between show that in 2008 the figures increased from 2007 to 216 commercials per week and 3.3 of these were for alcohol. In 2009 the figures were 217 commercials per week of which 2.8 were for alcohol, with a rise again in 2010 up to 223 commercials per week of which 3.7 were for alcohol. Across the 5 years 2007-2011 on average children saw 217 commercials per week of which 3.2 were for alcohol.
Following trends in alcohol spot distribution by hour, children's alcohol impacts increase gradually over the course of the day, peaking between 21:00-21:59, with 17.5% of all alcohol impacts seen during this slot in 2011. Alcohol impacts peaked during the 22:00-22:59 slot in 2011 among young adults, accounting for 16.2% of all alcohol impacts seen by adults aged 16-24 and 15.9% of alcohol impacts seen by 16-17 year olds.
While half of all alcohol spots (49.1%) in 2011 were aired pre-21:00, 56.4% of alcohol impacts among 4-15 year olds were seen before 21:00 - a further 37.7% were seen between 21:00-23:59. In 2007 56.2% of alcohol impacts for 4-15 year olds were seen before 21:00 and 38.8% were seen between 21:00-23:59. Driven by differences in viewing habits, over half of alcohol advertising seen by 16-24 and 16-17 year olds was seen post-21:00.
With increased viewing among children to portfolio channels, these channels also account for an increasing proportion of alcohol impacts. In 2011, portfolio channels represented a fifth (20.2%) of viewing to commercial channels compared with just over a quarter (26.7%) of alcohol impacts; similarly, sports channels accounted for less than 5% of viewing and 10.3% of impacts.
Among young adults, the share of alcohol impacts seen across channels 3, 4 and 5 has similarly declined since 2007 - at the same time the share represented by portfolio and 'other' channels has increased. Among both 16-24 and 16-17 year old groups, portfolio channels accounted for a greater proportion of alcohol impacts than channels 3, 4 and 5 in 2011.
When compared with the distribution of impacts across the entire day, in 2011 channels 3, 4 and 5 accounted for above average proportions of alcohol impacts during peak hours - post-21:00 there was an increase in the share of impacts seen across the portfolio and music channels.
1.5 Comparative analysis
Analysis of trends by daypart suggests that while children's viewing tails off after 21:00, a substantial audience continues to view, particularly in the first hour between 21:00-21:59. Viewing among 16-24 year olds peaks between 21:00-21:59 and continues later into the night than among children. At the same time, the volume of alcohol advertising shown increases post- 21:00. It is likely that this combination of continued viewing and the increase in the volume of spot advertising post- 21:00 is driving the level of impacts seen after 21:00, particularly during the 21:00-21:59 time slot.
Channel group trends
Looking more closely at the effect of the channels on which alcohol advertising is shown suggests that while channels 3, 4 and 5 accounted for 1.3% of all alcohol spots in 2011, they account for the greatest share of viewing among children and adults aged 16-24 - and in turn a significant proportion of alcohol impacts.
Channels within the 3, 4 and 5 portfolio channels group accounted for 10.8% of alcohol spots - they also accounted for a fifth of children's viewing and over a quarter of viewing among 16-24 year olds. The increasing popularity of these channels along with the level of advertising shown is likely to have resulted in the increase in the proportion of alcohol impacts seen across this channel group.
While sports channels accounted for less than 5% of viewing among children and 16-24 year olds, they accounted for around 10% of alcohol impacts in 2011. This is likely to have been as a result of the relatively high share of alcohol spots (13.7%) shown across this channel group. Overall, music channels accounted for over 10% of alcohol spots and around 5% of viewing but less than 4% of alcohol impacts - so while these channels show a relatively high proportion of spots, the level of viewing to these channels does not result in a similar share of impacts.
Channel group by daypart
By combining daypart and channel group trends we find that that a combination of effects is driving the peak in exposure to alcohol advertising during the evening and, in particular, post- 21:00. These trends appear to be driven by three key channel groups; channels 3, 4 and 5; the 3, 4 and 5 portfolio channels and music channels.
a) Channels 3, 4 and 5 - While the share of spots shown on these channels is relatively low, they account for high levels of peak-time viewing. Therefore it is likely that trends in viewing are resulting in above-average proportions of alcohol impacts seen across these channels in the evening.
b) 3, 4 and 5 portfolio channels - The above average proportion of impacts shown across this channel group is driven by a combination of above-average proportions of spots being shown and viewing taking place on these channels during peaktime, particularly post- 21:00.
c) Music channels - Viewing to music channels during the evening peak accounts for below-average levels when compared with viewing across the whole day. However post- 21:00 there is a significant increase in the proportion of spots shown on these channels and it is likely that this increase in advertising activity rather than viewing levels is driving the above-average share of impacts shown across this channel group during peak, particularly post- 22:00.
The research shows a gradual decline in the exposure of older children (those aged 10-15) to TV alcohol advertising (identified in previous research8) from 2002 to 2006. Between 2007 and 2011, exposure fluctuated significantly but did not return to the level achieved in 2006, and in some years was significantly higher (see figure 56).
While the absolute increase in alcohol impacts amongst all children was modest - on average, children saw just over three alcohol adverts a week in 2011 (3.2 adverts per week) as against 2.7 in 2007 (see section 1.4)- the percentage increase was significant. It seems likely that a variety of factors has driven these changes:
a) there has been a shift in viewing by children away from channels with no or relatively less advertising to channels with more such advertising, and this has increased their exposure to all forms of advertising, including alcohol (see figures 9 and 24);
b) most viewing by older children is to adult programmes, not children's programmes. Children watch adult programmes in large numbers, but very rarely constitute a sufficient proportion of the audience to trigger rules excluding alcohol advertising (see Annex 2);
c) viewing by older children to adult commercial channels now peaks after 9pm, when there is a greater concentration of alcohol advertising (see figure 18) - just under 25% of alcohol spots appear in the three hours from 9pm (see figure 38); and
d) there has been a general increase in the number of commercial channels on air (194 in 2007 vs. 207 in 2011) and in turn an increase in the number of total advertising spots. In 2007 there were 25.6m total advertising spots, this increased to 32.8m in 2011 (see figure 33). Total alcohol spots increased from 418,000 in 2007 to 659,000 in 2011(fluctuating year on year - rising to as high as 748,000 in 2010 see figure 34).
1.7 Next steps
Given the changes in children's viewing habits, and continuing concerns about the impact on children of exposure to alcohol advertising (much of which appears in media other than television), we believe it is important to look again at whether the current arrangements remain appropriate. We consider that there are two particular issues that warrant consideration.
First, is the current approach to identifying which programmes should exclude alcohol advertising working properly? In the course of carrying out the research, it became apparent from BARB data that there were a number of instances where alcohol adverts had been inserted in programmes that indexed at 120 or above. Ofcom has referred this data to the ASA and asked it to investigate these instances as a matter of urgency. Aside from any compliance action that may be warranted, it is clearly important to understand how this may happen, what corrective measures might make application of the rules more consistent, and whether there are circumstances in which it is impractible to apply the rules.
Second, in the light of changing viewing habits and the Government's call for alcohol advertisements to be excluded from programmes of 'high appeal' to children, is the current approach sufficiently comprehensive? Ofcom has therefore asked BCAP and the ASA to review the effectiveness of the current regulation of alcohol advertising in the light of the research, both as regards enforcement and whether it adequately reflects the changing circumstances of children's viewing. Ofcom has asked BCAP to set out its preliminary recommendations in October 2013.
1 The standards objectives set out in section 319(2)(a) of the Communications Act 2003 require the protection of persons under the age of eighteen. There are no viewing data for children under 4. There are BARB viewing data for 4-9s, 10-15s and 16-17s, but Nielsen data on exposure does not separate out 16-17s, hence the use of the broader 16-24 group.
2 BARB produces estimates of the size and demographic composition of audiences for programmes after they have been broadcast on the basis of viewing data collected from the BARB panel, which is made up of 5,100 households. The relevant demographic categories in this case are 4-9 year olds (viewing by under 4s is not measured), and 10-15s. Other demographic categories include 4-15s, 16-17s, and 16-24s.
3 Alcohol Harm Reduction Strategy, Prime Minister’s Strategy Unit, March 2004. A copy of this document can be found at http://www.newcastle-staffs.gov.uk/documents/community%20and%20living/community%20safety/caboffce%20alcoholhar%20pdf.pdf
4 Young people and alcohol advertising, Ofcom / ASA, November 2007 (http://stakeholders.ofcom.org.uk/binaries/research/tv-research/alcohol_advertising.pdf)
5 Government Alcohol Strategy, Home Office, March 2012 (https://www.gov.uk/government/news/alcohol-strategy-published)
6 For definitions see section 2 Data and methodology
7 An 'advertising impact' is a measure of viewing to an advertisement. For example, ten impacts could be achieved by ten people viewing a single advertisement, by one person seeing the advertisement ten times, or by five people seeing the advertisement twice, etc.