Following opposition from the Institute of Alcohol Studies, amongst others, the culture secretary Ben Bradshaw has excluded alcohol, smoking accessories, junk food (foods high in fat, sugar or salt), over-the-counter medicines, baby food and gambling from new rules allowing product placement in UK-made TV programmes.
Until recently, European law prohibited product placement completely, but that has now changed so that member states have the option to permit it if they choose. Only Denmark has opted to retain a complete prohibition on product placement. The new directive extends regulations to cover video on demand, which was not previously mentioned in the regulations at all.
The existing prohibition applies only to programmes made in the UK; imported programmes are exempt provided that the UK-based broadcaster does not benefit financially. Films are also exempt. Branded products may currently be used in programmes, again with the provision that there is no financial incentive to include them. This has led to the development of a prop provision industry, whereby companies provide products to agencies, who in turn supply these to programme makers in need of props.
At the time the European directive was introduced, the then culture secretary Andy Burnham ruled out product placement on the grounds that it would “contaminate” programme-making and blur the distinction between programmes and advertisements. Now health secretary, Burnham has continued to oppose product placement, together with the environment secretary Hilary Benn, the children’s secretary Ed Balls and the climate change secretary Ed Miliband.
The proposals to change the rules were put out to public consultation and received considerable opposition, particularly regarding the so-called “nasties,” alcohol, smoking-related products and junk food. Many of the responses made the point that children do not just watch children’s programmes, so that to protect children it is necessary to regulate adult programmes. This was reflected in a letter Ben Bradshaw sent to colleagues to let them know of his decision. He said that it is important to note that much of the television that children watch is outside the usual hours of children’s programming.