Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Talking Point: more adverts and product placement, but do we care?

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Telecoms regulator Ofcom have relaxed the rules about how many adverts can be shown every hour during movies and single dramas on ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 in the UK. Seven minutes was the current limit, but that's been increased to twelve minutes. The terrestrial channels don't have to enlarge their advertising, but it's unlikely they won't because of the economic downturn.

But does any of this matter to you? An hour of soaps already has twelve minutes worth of advertising within it, so this practice has just being extended to one-off drama's and movies. If you generally watch TV via a DVR, you'll just be fast-forwarding more often, right? That said, I think the popularity of live-TV viewing can't be dismissed. It may be increasingly popular to use Sky+ and the iPlayer to get your entertainment, but the majority of people still watch TV as they have done for decades, and that means sitting through adverts.

The relaxation of the rules came into affect yesterday (28 February), for a year-long trial period, the same day product placement is being made legal on British TV. That's a far more controversial change to the UK TV landscape. Product placement (commercial broadcasters accepting payment for promoting branded products within TV shows) is a common feature of American TV, but there's always been opposition to it here. UK broadcasters are only keen because they're struggling financially and this will give them a quick cash injection.

American Idol, sponsored by...
But again, do you envisage a real downside as a viewer? If characters slip in positive references to specific brands, will you care? Will it make the shows more realistic if characters can mention well-known brands? Or will it actually be less realistic if everyone on a soap keeps ordering the same lager? Does it cheapen the creative process if writers are forced to make sure Character X mentions he enjoys Product Y? Do we want lingering shots of cars and phones, just so audiences can notice the brand names and logo? Isn't this like the adverts intruding on the TV shows? Of course, British viewers already experience product placement within US drama and movies, so will we notice it on homegrown shows? This Morning featured a well-known brand of coffee-making machine in yesterday's episode (making it the first UK show to include product placement), so did you spot it?

On the plus side, product placement is still banned on programmes in the following genres: children's, news, current affairs, consumer, and religious shows.

So what do you think? Extra adverts and product placement on UK TV: is it a good thing, a bad thing, or something you probably won't even notice? And for foreign readers who already have extensive ads and product placement, does it amuse you that this is even an issue for Brits? Or do you sympathize with us? And if you don't understand why this is a bone of contention, is that a sign you've been "brainwashed" by living in a country where you've never known any different?