BBC Backs Down Over Coca-Cola Charts Show Credits

06 January 2004

Britain's state-owned broadcaster, the BBC, has bowed to the tsunami of criticism over its controversial on-air plugs for global beverages titan Coca-Cola.

The BBC's charter expressly forbids the corporation to carry overt advertising, although consumer organizations, rival broadcasters and political figures have expressed growing unease at the number of arms-length relationships now extant between the BBC and commercial companies.

Few, however, have been quite so high-profile as the Coca-Cola deal which sees the company credited twice during the popular BBC Radio 1 weekly charts show and again in the closing titles. Coke also gets a written plug in the end credits of BBCTV's weekly charts-oriented Top of the Pops programme.

But Coke is not the official sponsor of either show. That would be in blatant contravention of the BBC's charter. Instead the deal is between Coca-Cola and chart-compilation specialist the Official UK Charts Company -- upon whose data both BBC shows are based.

It is just possible that this cosy contortion might have escaped widespread public attention had its announcement not coincided with a statement by culture, media and sport secretary Tessa Jowell that her department planned a clampdown on food marketing to children.

A BBC spokesman admitted Sunday that the criticism had "concentrated minds" among senior executives. "The BBC does not want to be seen to be overly commercial," he said.

It is not the first time the charts shows have been indirectly sponsored. Until two years ago, web-based music business Worldpop sponsored the charts. But unlike Coke, its profile was low and without child-health connotations.

With an agile backflip, Radio 1 controller Andy Parfitt discovered overnight that the "broadcast market has moved on considerably" since the Worldpop deal was inked in 1999. "We no longer feel it is appropriate to allow on-air mentions of sponsors of the chart," he said.

A representative of the Official UK Charts Company is hotfooting it round to the BBC in the hope of resolving the corporation's concerns -- which seems unlikely given Parfitt's statement. However, the Coke plugs will continue on Radio 1 pending a final settlement of the matter.

Or until OUKCC and Coke find another less constricted and overtly commercial broadcaster able to deliver a comparable audience.

Data sourced from:; additional content by WARC staff