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EU agrees on product placement, ad breaks

Compromises allow new media policy to move ahead

LONDON — European Union culture ministers struck a series of compromise deals Monday regarding the controversial review of the “Television Without Frontiers” directive.

The directive, regulating the region’s audiovisual sector since 1989, is currently undergoing a major overhaul. Plans to deregulate ad and product placement rules and modify the directive’s core “country of origin” principal have prompted heated debate across the European media world.

At a key meeting on Monday, EU ministers agreed to a blanket ban of product placement across the EU, with an opt-out clause for governments not opposed to product placement.

EU Information Society and Media Commissioner Viviane Reding, a proponent of product placement as a means of raising revenue for EU product, welcomed the compromise because the “same end is achieved”.

With regards to advertising, the ministers proposed that advertising breaks should be allowed every 30 minutes, rather than the current 45-minute gap allowed. They agreed to maintain the current ad ceiling of 12 minutes per hour.

The EU ministerial meeting preceded a European Parliament vote by the culture and media committee on Monday night, in which MEPs were expected to vote for an outright ban on product placement.

On another controversial point, the EU ministers agreed that the country of origin principal, under which service providers are governed by the laws of the territory from which they broadcast, should remain intact.

They added, however, that broadcasters based in one country but broadcasting mainly in another should cooperate with regulators in the target country.

The European Parliament’s Culture and Media Committee were due to vote on the proposed directive in Strasbourg on Monday night. A parliamentary vote will take place mid-December.

Depending on that vote, the TV directive could be finalized next year.

The culture ministers meeting took place amid growing disquiet across the European media industry about the reform.

Francisco Balsemao, chairman of the influential European Publishers Council representing several powerful media corporations, told the European Media Leaders Summit conference in London on Monday that the reforms “would destabilise European broadcasting services.”

RTL topper Gerhard Zeiler, meanwhile, was unimpressed by attempts to liberalize advertising, saying it did not go far enough.

“Viewers have an enormous choices of channels and times,” he said on the fringes of the same conference. “We need greater choice about how we insert advertising into our program flow. No-one tells magazines on which page to insert their ads.”

(Adam Dawtrey contributed to this report)

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