TV product placement won’t rule the waves

September 13, 2009


If former culture secretary Andy Burnham may be said to resemble La Passionara (Watchword: “They shall not pass”; of course, they did eventually), his successor Ben Bradshaw appears to belong to the Canute school of pragmatism. He, if reluctantly, has waved through the inevitable. I’m talking about product placement on UK commercial television channels.

To be honest, the subject is something of a damp squib, except among content purists who emanate from another television age. Product placement is everywhere. Not only in the cinema, and therefore later on telly; but in virtually every American syndicated TV show (of which there are many) airing over here. Which means, in effect, that US brands like Coca-Cola on American Idol are getting a free ride second time round.

Not only that, there has long been a “grey market” which dare not speak its name. It gets around the regulations by giving branded props, free of charge, to programme makers. Specialist agencies take a turn, but TV stations can’t touch a penny: result, brand-owners are quids in because they don’t have to pay a real market price.

All that – barring continuing restrictions on the BBC’s and children’s programmes – will now be swept away. And not before time. Even our Brussels regulators think the UK position is absurd, which neatly sums the issue up.

Commercial television companies will be keeping the champagne on ice, however. Legitimising product placement is not exactly a financial panacea for our beleaguered broadcast media sector, beset by recession and destructive structural change. Initially, PP will be worth a measly £100m a year (DCMS estimate), compared with total TV advertising revenue of nearly £3bn.

Still, as a famous advertising slogan says: Every little helps.

Has Gordon Brown wrecked Digital Britain?

June 9, 2009

stephen CarterIt’s difficult not to feel a little sorry for Lord Carter, “temporary minister” (as he describes himself) of communications. Just as he’d got Andy Burnham house-trained as culture secretary (DCMS), away he tap dances to another portfolio at health; cue new wet-behind-the-ears replacement Ben Bradshaw.

Sorrows, they say, never come as single spies, but in battalions. Carter is already imprisoned in the reporting structure from hell, having two masters: Machiavellian Mandy at BIS and Buggin’s Turn at DCMS. Given that his magnum opus, the Digital Britain report, is due to be published on June 16, a reshuffle at culture was not exactly helpful. Perhaps luckily, Bradshaw has experience in media. He was once a BBC journalist, and started his career in local newspapers.

A delay in publishing the report while Bradshaw gets his feet under the table would, however, be the least of Carter’s headaches. Who is going to take notice of its recommendations when it actually appears? This is no facetious throwaway remark. Digital Britain, after all, deals with some crucial issues affecting the future of UK media. On its recommendations will hinge not only such matters as the future of Channel 4 and perhaps Five; the survival of independent local newspapers, the reshaping of ITV; but also the implementation of a new £3bn digital superhighway.

However, once the recommendations are out, Carter’s present task is virtually over. He can huff and he can puff about what the cabinet does with them in the autumn, but he won’t actually be able to exercise a lot of influence. He was frank enough to admit this at the ISBA conference last March. Even then, the idea of all his recommendations being accepted unconditionally seemed fairly improbable. Now it would be an irresponsible daydream.

Just how much time is this holed-below-the-waterline Government – whose damaged leader has “no plan and no vision” according to its favourite news organ – going to spend on an issue as low priority to its survival as the future of the communications industry?

%d bloggers like this: