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Ofcom supports product placement proposals

LONDON – Media regulator Ofcom is cautiously backing the European Commission's proposals to liberalise rules on television product placement, as alternatives are sought for the declining 30-second TV ad spot.

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Ofcom believes that a "cautious approach" to the introduction of product placement to help fund commercial television "has merit".

As such, Ofcom has published a consultation seeking views on how the product placement laws could be applied in the UK broadcasting arena while informing the viewer they are being subjected to advertising and ensuring editorial standards are not compromised.

The media watchdog says regulatory measures may be required for a number of issues including what types of programme will be allowed to carry product placement, safeguards to ensure viewers know they are watching ads, and determining to what degree there needs to be consistency with the Broadcast Advertising Code in product placement situations.

Ofcom also said that the widespread use of personal video recorders and increasing audience fragmentation has challended the traditional 30-second TV spot, and more revenue streams need to be explored for future funding of programming.

If the EC's 'Television Without Frontiers' proposals are approved, current adhoc form of advertising could become more formal with production companies being paid to feature specific products on commercial television.

The proposals will need the approval of the European Parliament and European Union member states before becoming law.

The Ofcom consultation closes on March 8.

Product placement in the US is estimated to be worth in excess of $3.5bn (£2bn), with the majority of US sitcoms like 'Will and Grace' and reality shows including 'American Idol' signing deals with big name brands like Subway and Coca-Cola to show their products. 

However, last month, Top US TV and cinema writers demanded that curbs be placed on the growing incidence of product placement, saying that it is advertising that deceives viewers by hiding behind programming.

The East Coast and West Coast branches of the Writers Guild of America called for the introduction of a code of conduct that would draw a distinction between entertainment and advertising.

Product placement is believed by many to have its roots in Ian Fleming's James Bond novels. They were rife with namedropping for brands such as Don Perignon, Bentley and Beretta. 

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