In today's society, commercial brands, products and services are everywhere. Inevitably, therefore, this will be reflected within programmes and whilst there is no prohibition on including verbal and visual references to commercial products and services within programmes, in order to maintain the editorial integrity of programming, the following rules apply.
Programmes must not give undue prominence to commercial products and services.
Clearly, commercial products and services can be referred to in programmes 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 programme 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 producers of a programme 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 programmes, branded products may be brought onto the set if editorially justified for a particular programme 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. For example, in a consumer item about DVD players, if every DVD player featured was of the same make, the brand is likely to be given undue prominence. Including a range of brands e.g. JVC, Sony, Panasonic ... is likely to reduce that impression.
Guests who are being interviewed in studio-based programmes and contributors in factual programmes 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.
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 programme-makers have little or no control over this.
In film and drama where, in most cases, programme-makers 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 programme-making, producers are unlikely to have much, if any, control over the surroundings in which they are filming. However, programme-makers 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 programme lawyer.
Agreements between programme-makers and/or broadcasters and external companies or agencies to include or to refer to commercial products or services within programme time in return for payment or something else of value are termed "product placement". Such deals used to be prohibited, now they are permissible but are subject to detailed and complex restrictions and requirements. Any product placement deals which have been done or which are anticipated must be disclosed and discussed in advance with the programme lawyer and with the relevant contact in Channel 4’s Partnerships team. These rules apply to acquired programmes and films, not just to commissions.
Programme-makers may acquire products or services for use within programmes 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 programme-makers (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 Code as "prop placement", 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 programme-makers for personal use or re-sale, it would be deemed to be of significant value to the programme-makers (more than a trivial "residual value", to use the 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 programme-makers.
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 programme e.g. where a camera is shown but the make, e.g. "Fuji", is not seen or mentioned verbally, we may consider giving 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 programme lawyer before programme-makers agree to this with any prospective supplier.
"Programme-related material" 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 or DVD of a series; a live event directly derived from a programme; downloads of out-takes from a programme; a telephone service providing further information about issues discussed in a programme; a factsheet or 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, DVDs 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.
Premium Rate Services
Premium rate telephone and text numbers and other services should not be included in programmes unless their inclusion is editorially justified and should not be promoted within programmes unless they fall within the definition of "programme-related material" (see above), in which case:
- full control, including editorial control, of any premium rate service messages must be retained;
- the arrangements must comply with the Phone-paid Services Authority;
- the service must only convey information which is directly relevant to the programme with which it is associated and which is of benefit to viewers;
- the service must not promote any product or service, except programme-related materials; and,
- detailed rules on the provision of on-screen call charge and other information apply.
Such services should only be set up and included in a programme with the full involvement of the relevant staff at Channel 4. Please discuss any proposed use of premium rate services in advance with the programme lawyer.
Commercial References within Competitions
Viewer competitions and game shows are an established part of many types of programming and will often have brand names or commercial organisations associated with them, either in connection with the prize itself or the prize donor, or both.
To ensure that brands and commercial organisations associated with competitions do not receive undue prominence, references to brands within competitions should be brief and secondary.
In practice, the following rules should be followed in order to achieve this:
- As a general rule, any one viewer competition or game show should have no more than two pairs of verbal/visual commercial references associated with it, in a programme part. Advice should be sought from the programme lawyer on the cumulative effect of such references occurring in more than one part if that is intended.
- References may be verbal and/or visual e.g. "To win a Nokia phone ..." - the presenter or voiceover could say "Nokia" and also show the phone, with Nokia shown written on the phone. That would be one reference (i.e. one pair). Additionally, if relevant, the brand or logo of the prize donor may be referred to as well e.g. "To win a Nokia phone courtesy of Vodafone ..." - here "Nokia" could be mentioned verbally and the phone (containing the word Nokia) shown (1 mention); and, Vodafone could also be named as the donor verbally and a caption with the name "Vodafone" shown (a further 1 mention). So, a total of 2 pairs of references i.e. the maximum allowed within one programme part.
- References should be kept factual and non-promotional e.g. "To win a first class trip to New York, courtesy of British Airways, answer the following..." (rather than: "To win a first class trip to New York courtesy of the world's favourite airline, British Airways, answer the following ...") References to commercial products/services or organisations in connection with competitions should not sound or look like advertisements.
- Visual references should be brief and not unduly prominent. As a general rule, a caption containing a brand name or logo should never occupy more than approximately 10% of the screen and should be on screen for no longer than 5-10 seconds.
- There may be a number of competitions within a single programme e.g. shows in the past have featured a different viewer competition around each and every ad break - question before the break with the answer and the winner announced after it. However, where programmes contain more than one competition, prizes and prize donors should be different for each competition, to reduce the risk of giving undue prominence to particular commercial brands. Advice should be sought from the programme lawyer on whether the cumulative effect of all the competitions taken together is problematic.
- "To win a holiday to Disneyland Paris (1 verbal reference) courtesy of e:bookers..." (1 verbal reference), answer the following question ... Here there are two commercial references, both verbal.
- "To win a year's supply of Perrier (accompanied by a picture of bottles of Perrier with the logo and name shown) (1 pair, verbal and visual) courtesy of Nestle, (accompanied with caption showing company logo), (1 pair of verbal and visual) - total 2 pairs of references, which is the maximum acceptable.
Note: if the method of entering a viewer competition generates revenue and involves a premium above the normal rate for that mode of communication (and that does include premium rate telephone or text services), the competition must either involve a significant element of skill e.g. the viewer must answer a question at a level of skill sufficiently rigorous to meet legal requirements (on which advice should be sought from the programme lawyer), or the competition must also have a free means of entry e.g. by post and/or via a website, and those free means of entry must be promoted with due prominence when compared to the premium rate paying routes in terms of size, frequency and duration, otherwise the competition may be classed as an "illegal lottery" (a criminal offence).
Legal advice must be sought at an early stage to ensure competitions comply with the provisions of the Gambling Act 2005. Please also note that different legislation applies in Northern Ireland and advice should be sought as early as possible.
All competitions within programmes must be referred in advance to the programme lawyer for advice on the above matters.
Note that Sections 1 and 2 of the Code contain further rules relating to on-screen competitions. They are summarised below:
- Competitions and voting must be conducted fairly;
- Viewers must not be materially misled about any competition or voting;
- Broadcasters must draw up rules for competitions and voting, which should be clear and made known to viewers where appropriate;
- Significant conditions that may affect a viewer’s decision to take part must be stated at the time the competition is promoted/advertised;
- Prizes must be described accurately;
- In children's competitions, prizes must be appropriate to the age range of both the target audience and the participants. For example, young children should not be competing for cash prizes.
Advertisements within Programmes
Generally advertisements must be clearly separated from programmes. However, all types of programming 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 programme lawyer at an early stage where it is intended to include advertisements or extracts from them within programmes.
Appeals for Charity
Broadcasters are able to make appeals for charities within programmes, as long as they do not charge the charities to do so and provided that the broadcaster 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.