EU set to relax TV advertising rules

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Parliament’s culture committee has approved new rules that would allow more commercial breaks and US-style product placement in television and other audiovisual broadcasts in the EU, paving the way for their adoption by the end of the year.

The revision of EU rules on television broadcasts and advertising – known as the ‘Television Without Frontiers Directive’ – aims to keep up with the latest developments in audiovisual technology, such as TV-on-demand, internet and digital television or hard disk-based recorders that are capable of automatically suppressing advertising blocks, which television companies fear could threaten their most important source of revenue. 

The new rules, which will apply to all “TV-like services”, including web-streamed TV programmes, had already been approved by EU ministers in May (EURACTIV 25/05/07) and MEPs in the culture committee approved the Council’s common position without any amendments on 12 November. If the full plenary backs the text on 29 November as expected, it would enter into force before the end of the year. 

The most important changes brought in by the new ‘Audiovisual Media Services Directive’ are: 

  • Product placement, through which brand marketeers pay for their products to be visibly used and displayed in made-for-TV productions – currently illegal in most EU member states – will now be allowed, provided that the viewer is informed by a signal at the start and end of the programme as well as after commercial breaks. Product placement will nevertheless be banned in news and current affairs programmes, children’s TV, documentaries and advice programmes.
  • Advertising in TV broadcasts will remain limited to a maximum of 12 minutes per hour, but more frequent breaks in films will be allowed – every 30 minutes instead of the current 45 minutes. Only programmes that are less than half an hour long will be spared interruptions (currently it is 35 minutes). 
  • Children’s advertising will be subject to a code of conduct that, for instance, limits junk food commercials aimed at children. 
  • Ensuring TV access for disabled people will be an obligation. 

European broadcasters say the new directive will contribute to the development of Europe’s audiovisual landscape, with Parliament rapporteur Ruth Hieronymi (EPP-ED) saying: “This is a good opportunity to guarantee television in the future both as a cultural and an economic good. Media pluralism and cultural diversity are safeguarded and as well the opportunity to develop new business models.” 

However, others, including shadow rapporteur Helga Trüpel (Greens/EFA) fear the new directive could lead to EU audiovisual media being “overrun by advertising” (EURACTIV 9/05/07). 

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