The Independent Television Commission last week confirmed plans to review the entire ITC programme sponsorship code, following lobbying by cable and satellite companies as well as terrestrial broadcasters including GMTV.
Although the sponsorship code is a subject for on-going debate, a full review had not been anticipated. However, the formal launch in May of a lobbying group headed by BSkyB sponsorship head Mark Wood and Hugh Geach, an independent sponsorship consultant, appears to be one factor which has forced the hand of ITC head of advertising Frank Willis (MW May 26).
“The current version of the code is two years old and it is widely accepted there is a need for a more general review,” an ITC source confirms. “We would anticipate a formal consultation process commencing in the new year, although any formal or informal views in advance of this will be welcomed.”
A number of ITC-licensed broadcasters have recently called for further relaxation of the ITC sponsorship code in certain areas. They fear the existing rules may restrict new programming from being made.
Sponsors are prevented from becoming associated with “how to” programmes if their activities are directly linked to that subject. Advertisers involved in supplying or funding programmes experience tighter restrictions on their credits than a conventional sponsor. The former could restrict a valuable new source of production investment, Geach fears.
Also at issue are restrictions on the acknowledgement of free or cut-priced products or services used in programme production.
In an attempt to ensure that new sponsorship guidelines are more flexible and meet the changing needs of advertisers and agencies, the lobbying group intends to compile a draft paper. It met representatives from sponsorship-agents’ body AMCO on Monday and is collating data from experiences in other EU countries.
“In a number of EU countries, broadcasters’ interpretations of what they can do under the broadcasting directive are more liberal than in the UK,” Geach explains. In some, a sponsor’s product can appear in sponsorship credits, in others, not.
“Greater flexibility is key,” he adds. “But we are not looking to lay down a single line on behalf of everyone.” Channel 4 already interprets the ITC’s code in its own, more restrictive way.
Neither it nor ITV is a formal part of the lobbying group. And some, like Simon Lynds, managing director of sponsorship consultancy Scott Lynds, stresses not everyone is in favour of greater liberalisation. The market should guard against turning sponsorship into what he calls a commodity market. “Sponsorship should not be there to cannibalise TV revenue, it should be an enhancement,” he says.
Viewers will not necessarily embrace total flexibility, Lynds adds, calling for clarification rather than change. Take Frosties’ sponsorship of Gladiators – Tony the Tiger can appear in animated form despite a restriction imposed after the Tetley Tea Folk featured in the Darling Buds of May sponsorship credits.
“Tony the Tiger is allowed because it is a trademark. And that it can be animated into the sequence because he is not doing something he could be seen to be doing in a commercial. That’s ludicrous.”