- Editorial content and advertising must be kept clearly separate.
- Products and services must not be promoted or given undue prominence within content (subject to a few specific exceptions)
- Channel 4 must retain complete editorial control over content, including sponsored content.
- Charitable appeals and product placement within content are permissible, but with specific rules and restrictions.
- Please tell us if you are offered any funding or payment in kind from a third party towards the production costs before you make any commitment. Such funding is rarely acceptable and may undermine our editorial independence, so it is vital that you tell us.
Channel 4 is funded primarily through advertising. However, other than as a general means of generating revenue with which to fund our content making and broadcasting/publishing activities, advertisers and commercial organisations should not in any way encroach upon our editorial independence and integrity. The following rules apply.
Editorial content and advertising must be kept entirely separate – for further rules relating to the separation of advertising and editorial content, see the 'Code on the Scheduling of Television Advertising'.
Products and services must not be promoted within content – some programme-related material is excluded. See the section on "Undue prominence" below.
Channel 4 must retain complete editorial control over it's content. In order to achieve this:
- Content must always be and appear to be editorially independent.
- Content should not promote or endorse the commercial products and services of others or appear to do so.
- Any improper external influence on the editorial process must always be resisted, e.g. by a commercial organisation, a contributor or anyone or any organisation who seeks to exercise some degree of control over editorial content.
- The external activities of personnel working for us, e.g. content creators or presenters must never improperly influence the editorial integrity of our content.
- On-air credits should always be justified.
Products and services within content
In today's society, commercial brands, products and services are everywhere. Inevitably, therefore, this will be reflected within content, and whilst there is no prohibition on including verbal and visual references to commercial products and services within content, in order to maintain the editorial integrity of content, the following rules apply.
Content must not give undue prominence to commercial products and services.
Clearly, commercial products and services can be referred to in content, i.e. both visually and orally, but their inclusion and manner of inclusion should always be editorially justified.
The frequency and manner in which a product or service appears or is referred to in a particular piece of content will have a direct bearing on whether or not it is being given undue prominence.
A useful practical yardstick is that no impression be created of external commercial influence on the editorial process; i.e., if viewers are left feeling a deal has been struck between the content creator and an advertiser to promote a product or service by stealth or otherwise, this is very likely to amount to undue prominence of the product or service in question, regardless of whether or not such an arrangement exists (see also Product Placement below).
Generally, studio-sets should not contain 'permanent' items that are branded, e.g., branded items of furniture or props.
In studio-based content, branded products may be brought onto the set if editorially justified for a particular content item, e.g. a consumer item, but even then, verbal and visual references to the item should be kept to what is strictly editorially justified. For example, it will not normally be necessary to repeatedly name-check products under discussion and, if branded items are brought into the studio, thought should be given as to how they are shown on camera. They should not be placed in such a way that they are unduly prominent – placed directly in front of the camera and left there for an unduly long time (which may be measured in mere seconds).
In certain circumstances, it may be appropriate to include a range of products or services of the same type, to reduce the impression of any commercial influence on the editorial process and, in turn, to reduce the risk of giving any one product or service undue prominence.
Guests who are being interviewed in studio-based content and contributors in factual content should, wherever possible, be told in advance of filming not to wear prominently branded clothing.
This is especially important if the guest or contributor has some commercial relationship with the brand in question, for example, a footballer who is sponsored by Nike should not be shown wearing prominently branded Nike sportswear in a studio-based item. If the guest is appearing as an ‘expert’ in a field and has commercial relationship with the company or product being discussed then this relationship should be made clear to viewers so they can make their own judgment on the validity of any advice given or claims made.
Viewers are likely to have different expectations depending on the situation in which contributors are filmed. For example, athletes being interviewed trackside are likely to be wearing clothing heavily branded with the marks of their sponsors, and viewers will realise that content creators have little or no control over this.
In film and drama where, in most cases, content creators have a greater degree of control over what is shown on camera, there must be stronger editorial justification for deliberately including any identifiably branded products and, even then, their prominence should be strictly limited to what is necessary editorially.
In documentary and factual content making, content creators are unlikely to have much, if any, control over the surroundings in which they are filming. However, content creators should always be aware of branded items around them and 'pieces to camera' and interviews should not be conducted against a backdrop with prominent commercial logos or names on it unless, exceptionally, it is editorially justified to do so, for example the interview is part of a news report about the brand in question.
If in doubt, seek advice from the content lawyer/ compliance advisor.
Agreements between content creators and/or Channel 4 and external companies or agencies to include or refer to commercial products or services within editorial content time in return for payment or something else of value are termed "product placement". Such deals are permissible but are subject to detailed and complex restrictions and requirements, including restrictions on which genres of content can and cannot contain product placement.
It is vital that any product placement deals which have been done or which are anticipated must be disclosed and discussed in advance with the content lawyer/compliance advisor and with the relevant contact in Channel 4’s Partnerships team.
These rules apply to acquired content and films, not just to commissions.
Content creators may acquire products or services for use within content for free or at less than full cost, and such arrangements don’t have to comply with product placement rules, provided that:
- there is no payment (or other valuable consideration) to Channel 4 or to the content creators (or any connected person or company);
- the product or service being supplied does not represent a significant value to any of these parties, over and above the saving made by the supply of the product/service; and
- there is no agreement with the supplier guaranteeing exposure to the product or as to the manner of its appearance. Such arrangements are referred to in the Ofcom Code as "prop placement"; they are permissible and are not required to comply with the product placement rules.
However, where a product/service supplied does have a significant value to the parties referred to above, such deals will be treated as product placement and must comply with the product placement rules.
For example, if a valuable prop (which had been supplied for free) was kept by the content creators for personal use or re-sale, it would be deemed to be of significant value to the content creators (more than a trivial "residual value", to use the Ofcom Code’s terminology). However, if a consumable low-value prop, e.g. a food product, was retained, this would be unlikely to amount to a significant value to the content creators.
Where products/services are being used in accordance with the prop placement rules, and where the identity of the product/service is not otherwise apparent from the content, e.g. where a camera is shown but the make is not seen or mentioned verbally, it may be appropriate to give it a brief text acknowledgement (on-screen for no more than approximately five seconds, with no logos or special fonts) to the provider of the product or service in the end credits, e.g. "With thanks to X".
This must be cleared by the content lawyer/compliance advisor before content creators agree to this with any prospective supplier.
Programme-related material in broadcast content
"Programme-related material" (PRM) is defined as products or services that are directly derived from a specific programme and are intended to allow viewers to benefit fully from, or to interact with, that programme. Programme-related material may include a book of a series; a live event directly derived from a programme; or a website containing relevant information about the programme; premium rate telephone numbers; or SMS text services. The following rules apply:
- Most of this material can be promoted within programmes (except for books, magazines or events for which there is a charge) or around the programmes to which they directly relate, i.e. within presentation time, as long as it is editorially justified to do so and Channel 4 retains responsibility for the material. Generally this means that Channel 4 should be in a position to exercise editorial control over the content of the programme-related material, or at the very least be satisfied that it does constitute programme-related material.
- To avoid giving undue prominence to programme-related material, any references to such material within programmes (where permitted) or in presentation time should be kept brief and confined to the name of the item, its cost and availability. In most cases, there will be no editorial justification in naming specific retailers where the material can be obtained from. Programme-related material may be sponsored, but credits for that sponsorship have to be outside the body of the programme and separate from any programme sponsorship credits.
All PRM mentions must be approved by the content lawyer/compliance advisor.
Advertisements within content
Generally advertisements must be clearly separated from editorial content. However, all types of content including news, current affairs, factual and entertainment programmes may contain advertisements or clips from advertisements, if there is sufficient editorial justification.
For example, it may be editorially justified to show a clip of an advertisement for a brand in a news or factual programme, perhaps as part of a report about the commercial fortunes of the brand in question.
Only as much of the advertisement should be shown as is justified editorially. Normally the 'pack shot' is removed, i.e. the final shot where the brand is frozen in vision for a couple of seconds.
Advice must be sought from the content lawyer/compliance advisor at an early stage where it is intended to include advertisements or extracts from them within programmes.
Appeals for charity
Channel 4 can make appeals for charities within broadcast programmes, as long as it does not charge the charities to do so and provided that Channel 4 has taken reasonable steps to establish that:
- the charity can produce satisfactory evidence of charitable status;
- in the case of an emergency appeal, that a responsible public fund has been set up to deal with donations; and
- the organisation concerned is not prohibited from advertising on television.
In addition, there is a general requirement that, where possible, appeals, either individually or over time, should benefit a wide range of charities. In other words, repeated appeals for one or a small number of the same charities would be unacceptable.
Funds for programmes
Channel 4 is permitted during editorial time to make appeals for donations to make programmes or to fund its services, subject to specific rules.
In the unlikely event that this is being considered by Channel 4, content creators must seek advice from the content lawyer/compliance advisor.
There are complex rules in relation to broadcasting financial promotions, i.e. invitations or inducements to engage in investment activity and investment recommendations, in relation to specific investment decisions, e.g. to buy or sell particular shares.
For further information on this complex area, please refer to the Legal & Compliance department.
Financial promotions must never be broadcast/published without having sought and acted upon the advice of the content lawyer/compliance advisor.
Any plan to employ 'virtual advertising', i.e. altering pictures to replace existing advertising at an event with other advertising, e.g. for geographical reasons, must be referred in advance to the content lawyer/compliance advisor for advice as it is treated for compliance purposes as product placement and the usual restrictions and requirements will apply.
Channel 4 must retain editorial control of its content including sponsored content.
A sponsored piece of content (which includes advertiser supplied/funded content) is one which has had some or all of its costs met by a 'sponsor' with a view to promoting itself or its products or services, or those of another. A sponsor may be any public or private undertaking, including charities (but see below for prohibited and restricted sponsors).
Sponsorship deals are a legitimate way for commercial broadcasters to increase revenue for their content making and publishing activities. However, to ensure that content remains editorially independent and that sponsors do not encroach upon the editorial integrity of the content they are sponsoring, the following rules apply.
Content which cannot be sponsored
Only news and current affairs content may not be sponsored. The Ofcom Code defines "current affairs programming" as programming which "... contains explanation and analysis of current events and issues, including material dealing with political or industrial controversy or with current public policy".
Prohibited and restricted sponsors
Promotional references to sponsor are prohibited
Sponsored content must not contain any promotional references (i.e. references which would encourage or are intended to encourage the purchase or rental of a product or service) to the sponsor, its activities or products or services, including generic references to a type of product or service. In addition, sponsorship arrangements should not lead to the creation or distortion of editorial content so that it becomes a vehicle for the purpose of promoting the sponsor or its interests. References that are non-promotional are permitted but only where they are editorially justified and incidental. Please note that brands, products or services which are sponsoring content may, nevertheless, be product placed in the same content subject to the usual restrictions and requirements.
Content creators and Channel 4 editorial staff should always ascertain whether the content they are making is to be sponsored.
No references to the sponsor or its products or services should be made within any sponsored content without first seeking advice from the content lawyer/compliance advisor.
Sponsored content must be identified as such, with credits at the beginning and/or around centre breaks if there are any during the content and/or at the end of the content. This can be done visually, verbally or both. The relationship between the sponsor and the sponsored content must be made transparent. Sponsorship credits and/or integrated title sequences must be clearly separated from content and from advertising. Sponsorship credits must not contain advertising messages, claims about the product or service, price messages or calls to action. In particular, credits must not encourage the purchase or rental of the products or services of the sponsor or a third party. Sponsorship credits within content must not be unduly prominent, and can only be a brief statement (visual or verbal) identifying the sponsorship arrangement, accompanied by only a static graphic of the name or logo of the sponsor. If the sponsor of content is prohibited from product placement, then they cannot be referred to within the content. If a trail for content contains a reference to the sponsor, it must remain brief and secondary.
Coverage of a sponsored event
If a sponsored event is being covered, there must be no undue prominence given to the event sponsor, its products or services (see the section 'Undue prominence' above). The appearance of any logos must arise naturally and incidentally from coverage of the event itself, e.g. participants' branded clothing, hoardings, advertising, banners. Any other editorial content associated with the event but which occurs away from the event should not generally include visual or verbal references to the event sponsor. Furthermore, the content's presenters must not wear clothing branded with the event sponsor's name or logo.
Any plans to include the event sponsor's name or logo in the content's title sequences, break bumpers, or in captions/astons should be referred to the content lawyer/compliance advisor for advice.
All references must be editorially justified and regard should be given to the cumulative effect when all references are taken together.
Where the event sponsor is also the content sponsor (eg. the event sponsor has also contributed to the content's production costs or contracted with Channel 4 with a view to promoting itself), the following additional rules also apply:
- Any reference (specific or generic) to the content sponsor or the content sponsor's products or services must be incidental, non-promotional and be editorially justified. This does not preclude incidental shots of the sponsor's on-location branding that occur as a result of filming the event, but there should be no branding, or references to the content's sponsor, outside of coverage of the actual event itself without editorial justification. A reference to the sponsor within editorial content may create a higher presumption of editorial influence by the sponsor.
- The content's/event sponsor's name may appear in the title of the content and in any title sequences, break bumpers and in caption/astons. However, advice should be sought in advance from the content lawyer/compliance advisor to avoid giving the brand in question undue prominence.
- Reference to the sponsor within content must not be a condition of the sponsorship arrangement, unless it forms part of an agreed product placement arrangement. See the section on 'Product placement' above.
- Content makers/Channel 4 must maintain editorial control of the way in which the event is filmed and the way in which references to the sponsor are included in the final content.To avoid problems and having to edit or pixelate footage, content creators should seek early advice from the content lawyer/compliance advisor on what will be and what will not be acceptable.
Note: a sponsored event cannot be 'created' for broadcast/publication and covered in the way described above. The event must exist independently of the coverage, i.e. it would happen regardless of whether the event is to be broadcast/published.
FAQs Some general guidance below, but specific advice should be sought from your content lawyer/compliance advisor
"Undue prominence" occurs when there is insufficient editorial justification for the degree of prominence (verbal and/or visual) given to a commercial name, logo, product or service in a piece of content, for example viewers get the impression that content is giving a degree of prominence to a particular commercial product or service that is not justified or explained by the editorial context. "Product placement" occurs when a content creator and/or Channel 4 receives a payment or benefit (in cash or in kind) to include a verbal and/or visual reference(s) to a commercial name, logo, product or service in a piece of content.
This can be a sensitive matter, which needs to be raised diplomatically but clearly at an early stage. Content creators should explain Channel 4's obligation to avoid undue prominence. If all else fails, creative shooting and editing, with close-ups on the face, framing logos out of shot, pixilation and even editing material out may be required.
Possibly, yes. Products can be accepted for use within content for free (and such arrangements don’t count as product placement) as long as there is no payment (or other valuable consideration) to Channel 4 or to the content creators (or connected person or company), the product or service being supplied does not represent a significant value beyond the saving made by the supply of the product, and there is no agreement with the supplier guaranteeing exposure to the product. In such circumstances, where the identity of the product is not apparent from the content, giving a brief "With thanks to X" credit in the end credits may be considered, providing it is in the usual credit font and no logos are used.
Content creators must seek advice from the content lawyer/compliance advisor before accepting free or discounted goods.
Yes, providing it is clearly understood to be an advertisement or extract from an advertisement, its inclusion is editorially justified in the particular context and undue prominence to the product or service is avoided.
A piece of content is considered to be sponsored if a third party has contributed towards the cost of making or broadcasting/publishing the content with a view to promoting its brand. That can be done in a number of ways, e.g. by paying Channel 4 a significant sum of money for the privilege of having sponsor credits before and after the content (and in and out of any ad breaks); by directly paying part of a piece of content’s production costs; or by an advertiser paying the entire costs of production, e.g. advertiser-funded content. In all cases, there is an obligation for the sponsorship arrangement to be made clear to viewers and there must be no promotional references (verbal or visual) to the sponsor within the content. Sponsors may have their brand, product or service product placed in the content, be credited as prize donors and/or have their products/services as prizes in viewer competitions in content they are sponsoring, but particular care needs to be taken to ensure that the cumulative degree of prominence is justified.
It depends on the connection between the content and the book, and whether Channel 4 has assumed responsibility for the book. Content-related material (books, magazines, web sites etc.) can be promoted if it is "directly derived from the specific content" and Channel 4 has "responsibility" for the content-related material. However, if the book in question was not content related material, e.g. the book was an autobiography of the presenter published independently of Channel 4, it could not be promoted as content-related material.
Commercial products and/or services can be given away as prizes in viewer competitions in content and in presentation time, providing the commercial references (verbal and visual) are "brief and secondary". Content should not promote the product or service and should describe it without giving it undue prominence. As a guide, two combined verbal and visual references to the commercial names in one part (if the content is in parts) is permissible.
However, the cumulative effect of such references occurring in more than one part can result in undue prominence so this needs careful consideration.
Yes. Ofcom rules on cross-promotion allow Channel 4 to do so within presentation time (but not within content), providing the service is "broadcasting-related", i.e. that the service delivers content similar to that delivered on a television or radio service. Some material, e.g. websites or references to content showing on another channel, may be both a broadcasting-related service as well as content-related material.
Possible examples include a television channel, a radio station, video-on-demand, content delivered over a mobile or broadband platform, or a website that provides content clearly and directly related to a broadcasting-related service, e.g. a channel's own website.
In general, the principle that all platforms on which the broadcast-related service is available should be promoted equally should be followed, as this is a way of avoiding undue prominence being given to one platform over others.
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