Broadcasters Sky and Channel 4, which have rights to cover Formula 1 in the UK, have been investigated by regulator Ofcom following coverage of the Singapore Grand Prix in September 2016. Sky was showing all practice, qualifying and race action live, while Channel 4 was airing a highlights package.
At issue were references to timepiece brand Rolex – also the event sponsor – which included: images of a large Rolex clock face superimposed onto an observation wheel which appeared in shots panning over Marina Bay, the race venue; and a small graphic of the Rolex logo which appeared when race information (e.g., a driver’s name, constructor’s championship data, knockout stage results, the map of the racetrack) was shown.
Ofcom sought information from the broadcasters to determine whether the references to Rolex constituted product placement. Neither broadcaster had any such agreement as they were both contractually obliged to carry feeds as supplied by Formula One management.
Channel 4 was nevertheless deemed to be in breach of the relevant rule concerning unduly-prominent commercial references as its coverage was an edited one featuring highlights of the race. with an opportunity for images to be edited out of the programme as broadcast.
In Sky’s case, while the live nature of the programme provided some justification for including the images, Ofcom was concerned that, in accepting the live feed, Sky facilitated prominent references to a commercial product that had no editorial relevance. However, taking into account the processes Sky had in place to address such issues, the action it took as a result of this incident and that similar instances had not recurred, Ofcom’s decision was that the matter is resolved.