Changes in the nature and balance of television food advertising to children
1.1 In April 2007, Ofcom began phasing in restrictions on the advertising of food and drink that is high in fat or salt or sugar (HFSS). Ofcom’s principal aim was ‘to reduce the exposure of children to HFSS advertising, as a means of reducing opportunities to persuade children to demand and consume HFSS products’ .
1.2 In announcing the restrictions, Ofcom said that it would carry out a review in late 2008 to assess whether or not the restrictions were having the expected effects, in terms of:
- the reduction in HFSS advertising seen by children;
- use of advertising techniques considered to appeal to children in HFSS advertising; and
- the impact on broadcasting revenues.
1.3 At the request of the Government, we brought forward the start of the review to July 2008. Immediately before the review, we held a seminar for key stakeholders (including Government departments, broadcasters, advertisers and interest groups) to explain the approach we were taking. This document reports on the outcome of the review, which looks at changes in the television advertising of HFSS products between 2005 (the last year for which Ofcom had comprehensive full year data when reaching decisions on the advertising restrictions) and July 2007 to June 2008 (2007/8 - the latest 12 month period for which we have data).
1.4 The final phase of restrictions do not take effect until 1 January 2009, so this review does not reflect changes which may result from those restrictions. For this reason, we intend to carry out a further review in early 2010, when full year data for 2008 and 2009 is available.
1.5 In December 2003, amid growing concerns about child obesity, the Government called for a change in the nature and balance of advertising to children of food and drink products. The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sports asked Ofcom to consider proposals for strengthening the rules on television advertising of food and drink products to children.
1.6 In 2004, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) started developing a nutrient profiling (NP) model to distinguish foods that were HFSS from those which were not, so that this could be applied to television advertising. The NP model was completed at the end of 2005.
1.7 In November 2006, following an extended period of analysis and consultation, Ofcom announced a progressive ban on the scheduling of HFSS advertising in children’s airtime . This began to be phased in from 1 April 2007 (Annex 1). The final phase will come into force on 1 January 2009, when all HFSS advertising will be banned from children’s channels. On other channels, it has already been banned from children’s airtime and around programmes with a disproportionately high child audience. HFSS advertising continues to be allowed at other times.
1.8 In parallel, BCAP introduced restrictions on techniques that may be used in promoting food and drink products, including HFSS products. Section 2 summarises the nature of the restrictions in more detail, which are set out in full in Annex 2.
The changing context
1.9 To understand the significance of changes to the nature and balance of food advertising to children, it is helpful to look at the context in which these changes are occurring. We examine these in more detail in Section 4; the main contextual changes have been as follows in 2007/8:
- children are watching broadly the same amount of television as in 2005, and the same proportion of viewing in adult airtime (just over half) and children’s airtime; however
- many more households with children have access to multichannel television in 2008 than was the case in 2005. As a result, children’s viewing has moved to digital channels away from the PSB channels;
- the main beneficiaries of changes in children’s viewing habits have been digital children’s channels (both commercial and non commercial) and the main commercial channels’ digital spin-off services (e.g. ITV2, Fiver and E4);
- the number of food and drink advertising spots on television overall has increased (mainly due to the proliferation of channels); however the share of food and drink adverts as a proportion of all TV advertising has remained relatively stable at 13.3%;
- food and drink advertising spots have shifted from children’s airtime to adult airtime. This appears to have been driven in part by the restrictions on food and drink advertising during children’s airtime; and
- the net effect of increased viewing to digital services (which are allowed to show slightly more advertising than the main commercial channels) overall is that in 2007/8 children were exposed to slightly more advertising (0.5% more impacts) than in 2005.
Changes in the amount of HFSS advertising seen by children
1.10 The current indications are that, in the context of a gradual decrease in food and drink advertising in children’s airtime since 2003, the scheduling restrictions are contributing to a significant reduction in HFSS impacts for 4-15 year olds, with scope for further reductions when the final phase of the advertising restrictions is implemented in January 2009.
1.11 For the reasons explained in section 3 of the document, while the amount of food and drink advertising can be directly measured, it is not possible to measure exactly how much HFSS advertising there was in either 2005 or today. The best estimate of change requires a comparison between separate assessments of how much HFSS advertising was seen by children in 2005, and how much they saw in 2007/8. We call these two assessments the 2005 and 2007/8 ‘proxies’. It is important to note that these assessments are prepared on different bases, because more detailed data is available for 2007/8 than was available in 2005. For this reason, the outcome is necessarily approximate, and should not be taken as a precise indication.
1.12 On that basis, we estimate that overall, compared with 2005, in 2007/8:
- children saw around 34% less HFSS advertising;
- younger children (4-9 year olds) saw 39% less; older children (10–15 year olds) saw 28% less;
- overall, children saw 41% less advertising on the main commercial channels (ITV, Channel 4, Five, and in Wales S4C1) and 27% less advertising on digital commercial channels;
- children saw 63% less HFSS advertising during children’s airtime (including both children’s channels and children’s slots on other channels);
- children saw 35% less HFSS advertising in adult airtime on the main commercial channels, but 7% more on digital commercial channels. The biggest increases occurred on the main commercial channels’ spin-off services , whose share of HFSS child impacts grew from 4% to 16%; and
- overall children saw 29% less HFSS advertising between 18:00 and 21:00.
1.13 Separate analysis carried out by Ofcom suggests that only about 40% of all food and drink advertising seen by children was for HFSS products likely to appeal to them. The remainder was either for non-HFSS products, or HFSS products such as spreads, cooking oil and drinks mixers.
1.14 Ofcom estimated that the advertising restrictions, once fully implemented, would reduce child HFSS impacts (the number of times an HFSS advert is seen by a child aged 4-15) by some 41% of the 2005 level (the last year for which we had comprehensive revenue and viewing data at the time). This estimate was prepared using the 2005 proxy.
1.15 If we look at the change between 2005 and 2007/8 measured by the 2005 proxy, then it suggests that there has been an 18% reduction in the amount of HFSS advertising seen by children, with further reductions likely when the final phase of restrictions is implemented in January 2009. However, for the reasons set out in Section 3, Ofcom considers that the estimates summarised in paragraph 1.12 above better reflect the change in the amount of HFSS advertising seen by children.
Changes in the use of advertising techniques seen by children
1.16 Surveys carried out by Ofcom’s co-regulator the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) show that broadcasters are complying with the HFSS content rules.
1.17 Children saw fewer food and drink advertisements using techniques considered to be of appeal specifically to children in 2007/8 than in 2005 . In particular:
- children saw less advertising featuring licensed characters (-69%), brand equity characters (- 36%), other characters (- 4%), promotions (- 36%) and health claims (- 18%). Children saw more advertising featuring celebrities (22%), but the growth all took place in adult airtime, and included advertisements featuring celebrities mainly of appeal to adults (e.g. Ian Botham and William Shatner);
- in children’s airtime, advertising impacts for children all these techniques declined and, with the exception of ‘other characters’ and ‘celebrities’, also declined in adult airtime; and
- further changes are likely when HFSS advertising is removed from children’s channels.
1.18 Overall, our analysis suggests that children are exposed to significantly less advertising using techniques considered to be of appeal to children.
1.19 In relation to brand advertising and sponsorship, there is no evidence which supports the view that advertisers are using these techniques to circumvent the restrictions on HFSS advertising, although the paucity of data makes definitive conclusions impossible.
Impact on broadcasters
1.20 In restricting the advertising that broadcasters could carry, Ofcom sought to avoid a disproportionate impact on the revenues of broadcasters, and to avoid intrusive regulation of advertising during adult airtime, on the grounds that adults are able to make informed decisions about advertising messages. Ofcom estimated that the restrictions would affect the advertising revenue earned by broadcasters, although some would be able to mitigate that loss to a greater or lesser extent.
1.21 The review found that restrictions on food and drink advertising have not been the most significant factor affecting broadcasters in the period under review. In particular, on the basis of data supplied by broadcasters:
- children’s channels saw a significant decline in food and drink advertising revenue. However data provided by broadcasters indicates that total advertising revenue on children’s channels has nevertheless increased overall;
- main commercial channels (ITV1, GMTV, Channel 4 and Five) have seen a 6% decline in food and drink advertising revenue. They have also experienced a reduction in overall advertising revenues;
- most other digital commercial channels have been able to increase their revenue from food and drink advertising, so mitigating the effects of restrictions to a greater degree than we expected.
1.22 The final phase of restrictions will be implemented on 1 January 2009, when children’s channels will be required to remove all HFSS advertising from their schedules.
1.23 Under transitional arrangements, children’s channels have been allowed to include a progressively declining amount of HFSS advertising in their schedules between April 2007 and December 2008. Unlike other channels, they have no scope to move HFSS advertising out of children’s airtime to other parts of the schedule. The purpose of the transitional arrangements was to allow them time to seek alternative sources of revenue to mitigate the loss of revenue from HFSS advertising.
1.24 In 2007/8, children’s channels accounted for 17% of HFSS advertising seen by children. If none of this advertising was displaced to other channels, we could expect a further overall 11 percentage point reduction in impacts since 2005 on top of the 34% reduction that we estimate has occurred.
1.25 The actual outcome is likely to be influenced by a number of factors, including the requirements of the advertising restrictions, the evolution of scheduling and viewing patterns, the changing emphasis of advertising campaigns, and the extent to which HFSS advertising displaced from children’s channels re-appears in adult airtime on other channels. Other factors that may influence the outcome include the extent to which product reformulation (a long term process) contributes to changes in the balance of HFSS and non-HFSS products advertised on television, and possible changes to the nutrient profiling scheme stemming from the FSA’s 2008 review.
1.26 For these reasons, we need to look at actual data from 2009 in order to gauge the full effects of the restrictions. Accordingly, we intend to carry out a further review in early 2010, once we have full-year data from both 2008 and 2009. As with the current review, the focus will be on whether the advertising restrictions are having the anticipated effects, rather than attempting to identify the direct impact of the restrictions on child obesity levels.