U.K. TV to take product placement

British execs urge cautious approach

British webheads are urging a cautious approach to product placement — currently banned in Blighty but set to bow on U.K. networks within 18 months.

The European Union’s Television Without Frontiers directive on broadcasting, issued last month, gave member states the option of permitting product placement in most genres of commercial TV except news, current affairs, sports and children’s programming.

Now execs are weighing in on how it would work.

Product placement must “sit comfortably with editorial content,” Channel 4’s head of sponsorship David Charlesworth told the Financial Times on Monday. “The industry would need to agree on sensible guidelines with Ofcom (the U.K. media regulator) … and allow plenty of time to agree with editorial staff, advertisers and producers.”

This view echoes that of C4 chief exec Andy Duncan. He has emphasized the need for caution on product placement and pointed out that it is not a substitute for spot advertising, which is under pressure from the Internet and on-demand viewing. As C4 buys all its shows from third parties, the broadcaster would not benefit directly from product-placement revenues.

Rival broadcaster ITV, which produces the majority of its own programs, is more upbeat about the concept.

ITV’s commercial chief Rupert Howell told the Financial Times: “We see carefully regulated product placement as a legitimate revenue stream that has the added benefit of supporting the production of original U.K. content.” But he, too, favors a soft approach, saying, “An effective regulatory regime would guard against some of the excesses seen in the U.S. and protect the interest of viewers.”