Ofcom has published details of significant restrictions intended to limit children’s exposure to television advertising of food and drink products high in fat, salt and sugar. Its conclusions follow extensive public consultation and a detailed programme of audience and focus group research, economic analysis and peer review of available scientific evidence.
After a detailed examination of consultation responses and all available evidence, and in light of its statutory duties, Ofcom has published the following measures:
- Ofcom has decided that one of its regulatory objectives is to reduce significantly the exposure of children under 16 to the advertising of food and drink products that are high in fat, salt and sugar (HFSS).
- Ofcom will seek to achieve this by the most targeted and proportionate means possible, balancing this objective against its statutory duties to secure television programmes of high quality and wide appeal.
- Ofcom has also decided that restrictions targeting the advertising of HFSS products will use the current Nutrient Profiling scheme developed by the Food Standards Agency.
- On the balance of the evidence, Ofcom believes that the best way to achieve its objectives would be a total ban on HFSS food and drink advertisements in and around all programmes of particular appeal to children under the age of 16, broadcast at any time of day or night on any channel.
- This would include a total ban in and around all children’s programming and on dedicated children’s channels as well as in youth-oriented and adult programmes which attract a significantly higher than average proportion of viewers under the age of 16.
- As a result of Ofcom’s decision to target regulation to ensure the protection of the under-16s – as opposed to the under-9s, as first proposed – there will be a short and focused consultation to seek views on extending restrictions to protect these older children. This will close before Christmas with the final determination in January 2007.
- In addition to general content rules requiring responsible advertising to all children at all times, Ofcom has also put forward new rules on the content of advertisements targeted at primary school children. These rules would ban the use of celebrities and characters licensed from third-parties (such as cartoons), promotional claims (such as free gifts) and health or nutrition claims.
- All restrictions on product advertising will apply equally to product sponsorship.
- The restrictions would apply to all broadcasters licensed by Ofcom and based in the UK, including international broadcasters transmitting from the UK to audiences overseas.
Effectiveness and Revenue Impact
- Under this package of measures, in households where children’s viewing includes a large number of programmes targeted at adults as well as programmes for children and young people, children under 16 would see 41% fewer HFSS food and drink advertisements. For under-9s the reduction would be 51%.
- There would be greater reductions in digital television households where children’s programmes, dedicated children’s channels and programmes of particular appeal to under-16s make up a growing share of viewing by the young.
- Ofcom has estimated that the impact on total broadcast revenues would be up to £39m per year, falling to around £23m as broadcasters mitigate revenue loss over time. The commercial public service broadcasters (ITV plc, GMTV, Channel 4, and five) could lose up to 0.7% of their total revenues. Children’s and youth-oriented cable and satellite channels could lose up to 8.8% of their total revenues; up to 15% of total revenues in the case of dedicated children’s channels.
Timing and Future Review
- Changes to rules governing the content of advertisements would take effect before the end of January 2007. New campaigns commissioned after that point would be required to comply with the new rules.
- However, advertising campaigns already underway or in the final stages of creative execution at the end of January 2007 would be allowed to be broadcast until the end of June 2007. After that point all advertising would have to conform to the new content rules.
- Changes to scheduling rules affecting advertisements seen by the under-16s would come into effect from the end of March 2007, before Easter.
- Restrictions would be phased in over 24 months to the end of 2008 for dedicated children’s channels where the ability to substitute revenues from food and drink advertising would be more difficult to achieve quickly .
- Ofcom will review the effectiveness and scope of new restrictions in autumn 2008, one year after the full implementation of the new content rules.
Ofcom Chief Executive Ed Richards said: “Based on the evidence and analysis we believe the case for intervention is clear. We will introduce significant but proportionate measures to protect children under 16.”
He added: “We will look to advertisers and broadcasters to follow both the spirit as well as the letter of the rules we are putting in place.”
On 1 December 2003 the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport Tessa Jowell asked Ofcom to consider proposals to strengthen rules on food and drink advertising to children. In response, Ofcom undertook a comprehensive analysis of the available scientific and audience data to assess the extent to which television advertising influenced children’s food preferences.
The research included 2,000 interviews with children, parents and teachers as well as details of family eating habits drawn from a panel of 11,000 people. It demonstrated that television advertising has a direct effect on children’s dietary preferences; however its impact is modest when compared to other factors such as parental influence, trends in family eating habits, school policy, public understanding of nutrition, food labelling and exercise. Such advertising also has a larger indirect effect on food and drink choices, although this cannot be quantified.
With the publication of the research in July 2004, Ofcom concluded that targeted restrictions were warranted as part of a wider range of policy measures, to be undertaken by Government and others, to tackle childhood obesity. It also concluded those restrictions should be proportionate, reflecting the limited role played by television advertising in shaping children’s diets while acknowledging the potential for a significant impact on broadcasters of a reduction in advertising revenue.
In March 2006, once the Food Standards Agency had completed work on its Nutrient Profiling scheme (developed specifically to enable differentiation in advertising) and the Government had published its Health White Paper, Ofcom published a public consultation seeking views on the most appropriate new measures. Ofcom received more than 1,000 responses from a broad range of individuals and organisations with widely differing perspectives.
Ofcom’s broadcasting duties include responsibility for setting standards in television advertising; its statutory objectives also include the protection of children. In fulfilling these objectives, Ofcom additionally has statutory obligations to secure a wide range of television services of high quality and wide appeal, offered to audiences by a range of different broadcasters.
Taken together, Ofcom believes the restrictions would have a significant effect on the volume and nature of television advertising of food and drink products to children. In reaching its view, Ofcom has sought to balance these duties, acting to protect children while acknowledging its obligations to secure programmes from broadcasters upon whom these measures would have a commercial impact.
Details of Specific Measures
Restrictions will be targeted at food and drink products rated as high in fat, salt or sugar (HFSS) according to the Nutrient Profiling scheme developed by the Food Standards Agency (FSA). However, food or drink products which are below FSA thresholds may be advertised without scheduling restrictions, providing an incentive for some manufacturers to reformulate existing products as well as to develop new products which are low in fat, salt and sugar. Ofcom will look to the FSA to ensure that the Nutrient Profiling scheme remains in line with scientific thinking as it evolves over time.
Protection For Under-16s :
A total ban, at all times of day and night and on all channels, on the advertising of HFSS products in – or adjacent to – all programmes which have particular appeal to children under 16. This would prohibit advertising of HFSS food and drink products in, for example:
- all pre-school children’s programmes
- all programming in children’s airtime on commercial public service broadcast channels
- all cable and satellite children’s channels
- youth-oriented programming (such as specialist music programmes) and programmes intended for adults which attract a significantly higher than average proportion of viewers under the age of 16 – for example, some general entertainment programmes.
Ofcom’s initial consultation proposals focused on the under-9s. However, in light of consultation responses, Ofcom has decided that one of its objectives is to reduce significantly the exposure of children under 16 to the advertising of HFSS food and drink products. As new restrictions for under-16s would be extended to include additional types of programmes on channels not previously identified as the focus of potential intervention, Ofcom is seeking views on this aspect through a short and focused consultation. This will close before Christmas with the final determination published in January 2007.
Additional Rules on Advertisment Content:
In addition to revised general content rules requiring responsible advertising to all children at all times, Ofcom believes it is appropriate to impose new restrictions aimed at providing a further level of protection. Advertisers promoting HFSS food and drink products would not be able to:
- show television advertisements targeted at primary school children which use celebrities or characters licensed from third-parties (such as cartoon characters) which are popular with children;
- use promotional activity such as free gifts in television advertisements targeted at primary school children; or
- make nutritional or health claims in television advertisements targeted at primary school children.
Sponsorship and Brand Advertising
Restrictions on product advertising also apply to product sponsorship.
Broadcast advertising regulation is predominantly product-based. Certain products may not be advertised (such as cigarettes); some cannot be advertised around certain programmes and with strict controls on creative executions (such as alcohol); other products may be advertised without restriction.
Brand advertising is permitted for all companies other than those wholly or mainly associated with specific types of product or service (such as tobacco) which have been explicitly prohibited from television advertising. There is no prohibition on brand advertising by companies whose portfolios include HFSS food or drink products – goods which, unlike tobacco and alcohol, can legally be sold to children.
However, Ofcom will look to advertisers to act responsibly in their wider interpretation of, and response to, the measures to restrict HFSS product advertising. The Government intends to conduct a review next year to determine changes in the nature and balance of food promotion across broadcast and non-broadcast media. This will then be followed by Ofcom’s review, which Ofcom expects to begin in autumn 2008. Should advertisers choose to use brand advertising to seek to avoid product-based restrictions, this would form the focus of scrutiny in future.
Other Options Considered
Ofcom considered a broad range of other options during the course of public consultation. However, in Ofcom’s view, none of these achieved the right balance between imposing the restrictions required adequately to protect children while avoiding a disproportionate impact on broadcasters with consequent effects on programme investment including original productions for children.
Many consultation respondents, including the Food Standards Agency, the Children’s Commissioner, consumer bodies, health organisations and individuals, called for a ban on food and drink advertising before the 9pm watershed.
While a 9pm watershed ban would remove a large number of HFSS advertisements from television, when compared to other potential restrictions much of its effect would fall on programmes of primary appeal to adults rather than children. Audience data for 2005 demonstrates that, on average, under 16 year olds watching programmes on ITV1, Channel 4 or five between 6pm and the 9pm watershed are outnumbered nine-to-one by viewers over the age of 16.
A 9pm watershed ban would also significantly reduce broadcaster revenues, to an extent inconsistent with a proportionate approach. The total potential revenue involved could be more than £250m per year; a figure which exceeds the entire UK commercial television industry’s investment in all children’s television and all national news coverage combined.
In light of this and other evidence, and after carefully reviewing all consultation responses, Ofcom has concluded that a 9pm watershed ban would be a disproportionate approach, particularly when compared to Ofcom’s preferred focus on HFSS advertising around programmes and on channels of particular appeal to under-16s.
Separately, a number of advertisers and broadcasters jointly submitted a new alternative option which proposed some targeted limits on food and drink advertisements. However, Ofcom did not believe this proposal met its regulatory objective to reduce significantly the exposure of children under 16 to HFSS food and drink product advertising.
The Statement – including a consultation on the extension of rules to include children under 16 – can be found online at: http://www.ofcom.org.uk/consult/condocs/foodads_new/
The consultation will close on 15 December 2006.
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