A sponsored programme (which includes advertiser supplied/funded programmes) 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 now commonplace and are a legitimate way for commercial broadcasters to increase revenue for their programme-making and broadcasting activities. However, to ensure that programmes remain editorially independent and that sponsors do not encroach upon the editorial integrity of the programmes they are sponsoring, the following rules apply.
Content which cannot be Sponsored
Only news and current affairs programming may not be sponsored. The 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
Programmes cannot be sponsored at all by organisations that are prohibited from advertising on television e.g. the tobacco and pornography industries. For further details see the UK Code of Broadcast Advertising.
Broadcasters must retain editorial control of all their programmes including sponsored programmes.
Promotional References to Sponsor Prohibited
Sponsored programmes 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 a programme may, nevertheless, be product placed in the same programme, subject to the usual restrictions and requirements.
Programme-makers and Channel 4 editorial staff should always ascertain whether the programme they are making is to be sponsored. No references to the sponsor or its products or services should be made within any sponsored programme without first seeking advice from the programme lawyer.
Sponsored programmes must be identified as such, with credits broadcast at the beginning and/or around centre breaks during the programme and/or at the end of the programme. This can be done visually, verbally or both. The relationship between the sponsor and the sponsored programme must be made transparent. Sponsorship credits and/or integrated title sequences must be clearly separated from programmes 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 broadcast within programmes 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 a trail for a programme contains a reference to the sponsor, it must remain brief and secondary.
Coverage of a Sponsored Event
If a programme is covering a sponsored event e.g. the Orange British Film Academy Awards, The Brit Awards with Mastercard, or a sporting occasion e.g. the Aegon Championships (tennis), the Capital One Cup (football), there must be no undue prominence given to the event sponsor, its products or services (see 'Undue Prominence'). 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 programme'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 programme's titles sequences, break bumpers, or in captions/astons should be referred to the programme lawyer for advice. All references must be editorially justified and regard had to the cumulative effect when all references are taken together.
Where the event sponsor is also the programme/broadcast sponsor (i.e. the event sponsor has also contributed to the programme'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 programme sponsor or the programme sponsor's products or services must be incidental, non-promotional and there must be editorial justification for its inclusion. 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 programme's sponsor, outside of coverage of the actual event itself without editorial justification. A reference to the sponsor within a programme may create a higher presumption of editorial influence by the sponsor.
- The programme/event sponsor's name may appear in the title of the programme and in title sequences, break bumpers and in caption/astons. However, advice should be sought in advance from the programme lawyer to avoid giving the brand in question undue prominence.
- Reference to the sponsor within a programme must not be a condition of the sponsorship arrangement, unless it forms part of an agreed product placement arrangement. See 'Product Placement'.
- Programme-makers/broadcasters 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 broadcast programme. To avoid problems and having to edit or pixelate footage, programme-makers should seek early advice from the programme lawyer on what will be and what will not be acceptable.
Note: a sponsored event cannot be 'created' for television and covered in the way described above. The event must exist independently of the television coverage i.e. it would happen regardless of whether the event is to be televised.