U.K. bans junk food ads on kids’ TV

Regulator extends age range to include under 16s

LONDON — Junk food commercials in TV shows targeted at under-16s will be banned in the U.K. by the end of January.

The ban, announced by British communications regulator Ofcom, was attacked by terrestrial web Five and Turner Broadcasting as “draconian” and “a missed opportunity.”

According to Ofcom estimates this will cost U.K. broadcasters £39 million ($74 million) in lost advertising revenue — and is certain to damage further the already precarious future of original children’s production in the U.K.

Commercials for junk food — defined as those that are high in fat, salt and sugar — will be banned from pre-school children’s shows; shows on mainstream, cable and satellite channels aimed at children; programs aimed at young people, including music shows; and general entertainment programs appealing to a “higher than average” number of under-16s.

“Based on the evidence and analysis we believe the case for intervention is clear,” said Ofcom CEO Ed Richards. “We will introduce significant but proportionate measures to protect children under 16. We will look to advertisers and broadcasters to follow both the spirit as well as the letter of the rules we are putting in place.”

Five CEO Jane Lighting said the future of U.K. children’s shows on private TV looked “bleak.”

She said: “This is a tough decision and we are disappointed it is even more draconian that the stringent measures that Ofcom originally proposed. These restrictions will deny us substantial revenue and make the economics of producing children’s programs a lot more difficult in the future. The long-term future of U.K.-produced children’s programming outside the BBC is bleak.”

Rival U.K. web Channel 4, which virtually ignores children’s programs, described Ofcom’s decision as “a proportionate response to a complex social issue” but warned it will cause the channel “financial difficulties.”

ITV, the U.K.’s biggest private terrestrial web, declined to criticize the decision, but it has already stopped commissioning British-made kids’ shows.

Music channels appeared astonished by Ofcom’s decision.

Michiel Bakker, executive VP and managing director for MTV Networks U.K. & Ireland, said: “Ofcom’s surprising and unexpected decision to extend the ban on food and drink advertising to include 10-15-year-olds has been done without consultation.”

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