Increased TV advertising wins EU approval

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The European Parliament has given the green light to legislation allowing for more frequent commercial breaks and the use of “hidden” ads in television and other audiovisual broadcasts across the EU.

Following the European Parliament’s approval of the new ‘Audiovisual Media Services Directive’ on 29 November 2007, member states have until the end of 2009 to apply the revised standards to all “TV-like services”, including web-streamed TV programmes. 

The most important changes brought in by the new text are: 

  • US-style product placement – a currently illegal practice in most member states, through which brand marketeers pay for their products to be visibly used and displayed in TV productions – for example with the programme’s hero boasting his favourite beer or car brand – will now be allowed. However, the placement of some products, including cigarettes and medicines, will remain forbidden. The directive also stipulates that viewers must be informed of product placement in a programme by the use of a signal at the start and end of the show, as well as after commercial breaks. Hidden ads will also be banned in news and current affairs programmes, children’s TV, documentaries and advice programmes. 
  • A daily three-hour maximum limit on advertising in TV broadcasts is lifted, although an hourly limit of 12 minutes per hour remains. Also, 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. 

Member states will continue to be able to introduce more stringent rules, although these will be subject to the so-called “country-of-origin” principle, whereby broadcasters only have to respect the laws of the country where they are based, and not those to which they broadcast. This means, for instance, that a programme made in a country where product placement is allowed could not be blocked in a country that chooses to ban such forms of hidden advertising. 

European broadcasters say the new directive ensures that "both economic and cultural values are reflected in Europe's audiovisual sector". They expect it "to contribute greatly to the development of Europe's audiovisual landscape and to enable Europe to compete in the digital world". 

Parliament rapporteur on the text Ruth Hieronymi (EPP-ED) said the directive succeeded in safeguarding pluralism and cultural diversity while also providing an opportunity to develop new business models. 

Spanish Liberal MEP and shadow rapporteur Ignasi Guardans said: "With this parliamentary vote begins the countdown for Europe to become a truly common audiovisual area where the law that applies is no longer the law of the jungle or an area without law". He believes it will ensure better funding for free television whilst protecting fundamental values, which is important in a market where competition is growing. 

However, the Greens  fear the new directive could lead to EU audiovisual media being "overrun by advertising". German shadow rapporteur Helga Trüpel  said: "Audiovisual media in the EU will be exposed to much more pervasive advertising than ever before. All forms of broadcast - from news broadcasts to films to children's programmes - are set to be inundated with advertising. The legislation introduces a framework for product placement for the first time, meaning there can be no escaping the marketing onslaught." 

In December 2005, the Commission proposed revising EU rules on television broadcasts and advertising – known as the 'Television Without Frontiers Directive' – in order to keep up with the latest developments in audiovisual technology, such as TV-on-demand, internet and digital television, or hard disk-based recorders capable of automatically suppressing advertising blocks, which television companies fear could threaten their most important source of revenue. 

EU Ministers finally reached a common position on a draft version of the new legislation in May (EURACTIV 25/05/07), and their text won approval from Parliament's culture committee on 12 November (EURACTIV 14/11/07). 

  • 31 Dec. 2009: Deadline for member states to implement the new rules.

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