February 12, 2008

Jamie Cooks Up a Product Placement Storm

UK broadcasting regulator Ofcom's recent ruling, which found that Jamie Oliver and his Fresh One Production company breached British broadcasting regulations by making reference to his own kitchen utensil range in-program is an absurdity in light of the recent EU Parliament ruling lifting the ban on product placement in all EU member states.

Although the ruling comes a year after the Channel 4 series went to air, the matter is a serious case in point for the office to now review its existing guidelines in consideration of last year's EU ratification in Brussels.

Viewers allegedly complained to Ofcom after Jamie demonstrated and made repeated references to his Flavour Shaker in the series Jamie at Home, made by Oliver’s own company, Fresh One Productions.

Ofcom said in it's recent determination that two episodes of the series fell foul of strict guidelines that “undue prominence” must not be given to any product or service.

Broadcaster Channel 4 argued that the inclusion of the device was editorially justified (contextually) and said Oliver also mentioned other utensils such as a pestle and mortar or food processor that could achieve the same effect.

But Ofcom said Oliver had breached rules on product placement and Channel 4 had failed to maintain independence of editorial control over the programme's content, citing: "The focus on the product went way beyond the prominence usually given to a basic kitchen utensil."

The Ofcom ruling is out of touch. The European Parliament passed a raft of far-reaching broadcasting reforms, including a widespread easing of restrictions on product placement in TV programming in November last year.

The new rules state that even where placements are allowed they need to be clearly identified at the start and end of the program. Which may not have been the case here. Whereas disclosure in Australia is common practice for our broadcasters.

The European Commission introduced the new rules to meet the demands of a fast-moving and dynamic new media industry while protecting consumers. News, current affairs, documentaries and children's programmes are not affected.

Less regulation, better financing for content all designed to help European media businesses remain competitive in the digital era.

The European Parliament's directive on audiovisual media services, which covers product placement, will come into force in all EU member states by the end of 2009.

It was recently estimated by Freemantle Media that product placement on European television could bring in revenues of €150m (£107m) by 2010.

Like many of Hollywood's screenwriters, I suspect JO and Fresh One will shortly be investing in an IPTV platform of their very own.


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