Advanced Television

Research: ‘UK audiences OK’ with brand placements

December 5, 2022

By Colin Mann

Audience research commissioned by broadcast regulator Ofcom reveals UK viewers’ attitudes towards commercial references in and around TV programmes.

In addition to income from adverts in commercial breaks, broadcasters can generate revenue from references in programmes. These commercial arrangements allow brands, products and services to feature in and around TV programmes – through product placement or in sponsorship credits, for example. These references to brands and products are an established part of TV programmes.

Ofcom’s rules in this area protect audiences from excessive advertising and ensure that viewers can distinguish between advertising and programmes.

To help it understand more fully how viewers think and feel about commercial references in and around programmes, Ofcom spoke to more than 100 people. In summary, we found that:

  • participants generally accepted commercial references as an established part of the TV landscape, although, beyond product placement and sponsorship, awareness of the variety of such references in programming was low, as was participants’ understanding of whether they were paid for or not;
  • participants wanted to be able to distinguish clearly advertising from programming, so they could make informed decisions on how they engaged with the content;
  • participants did not want commercial references to interrupt their viewing. For example, they were less tolerant of commercial references that ‘break the flow’ of a programme, are irrelevant to its theme or are overly prominent;
  • there were concerns that commercial references should be suitable for those watching, particularly younger audiences. Participants wanted those most at risk of being influenced by a commercial reference to be safeguarded from potential harm; and
  • many participants considered it important the brands whose commercial references appear in programming were ethical and their values and practices not considered harmful to society or vulnerable audiences.

Ofcom will use these findings to help it consider whether to update its guidance to these rules. Given the economic pressures broadcasters currently face, it will explore what flexibility it might be able to provide around the commercial arrangements they use to fund their programmes, while ensuring that viewers’ interests remain protected.

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