EU greenlights product placement

Parliament waves through television reforms

LONDON — The European Parliament on Wednesday agreed to a proposed reform of the Television Without Frontiers directive, effectively backing an amendment legalizing product placement across Europe.

The TWF directive, which has governed Europe’s audiovisual sector since 1997, is undergoing a major overhaul.

Under the amendment, product placement would be banned from news and current affairs programs, children’s programs and documentaries, but permitted in movies, series and sports broadcasts.

Viewers would have to be notified of the existence of product placement ahead of its broadcast, as well as by a signal every 20 minutes.

Product placement for tobacco and alcohol would be banned completely.

Parliament also voted to limit ad breaks in the “transmission of films made for television, cinematographic works, children’s programs and news programs” to one every 30 minutes.

The European Commission had proposed breaks every 35 minutes, while the parliament’s Culture Commission had asked for the limit to be every 45 minutes.

EU culture ministers will decide a common position on the proposed reform, taking into account the parliament’s amendments, in January. The draft legislation then returns to parliament for a second reading and vote.

Separately, the EC said it has postponed a decision, expected this month, on whether to reform copyright levies on the private copying of audio and audiovisual works.

The Copyright Levies Reform Alliance, representing the tech companies’ lobby in the EU, said in a statement that it was “deeply disturbed by the European Commission’s apparent about-face on the planned reform.”

Technology companies argue the current levy scheme, which developed in an era of music and video cassettes, is not compatible with a digital age.

“It seems the commission has chosen to drop the recommendation on levies that was due to be adopted next week following 11th-hour interference from France,” CLRA added, referring to a letter from French prime minister Dominique de Villepin to the EC, defending the levies.

An EC spokeswoman denied EC president Jose Manuel Barroso had been pressured to freeze the process by the letter and said no new timetable for reform has been set.

Twenty EU member states apply the copyright levy laws set out in the EC’s 2001 Directive on Copyright. Britain, Luxembourg, Ireland, Malta and Cyprus opted out of directive.