Observations: Unpaid product placement: the elephant in the room in UK TV’s new paid-for product placement market

Chris Hackley

Royal Holloway University of London

Rungpaka Amy Hackley née Tiwsakul

Queen Mary University of London

Introduction

On 28 February 2011 the UK media regulator Ofcom changed its rules to allow paid-for product placement on domestically produced commercial TV for the first time in UK broadcasting history. Now, a small but distinctive P logo appears very briefly in the corner of the TV screen alerting the viewer to the presence in the show of some paid-for placements. The new rules were expected to usher in a bonanza of new revenue streams from innovative cross-promotion around programme sponsorship, product placement and advertiser-funded programming, and even from digitally inserted placements in re-runs of old shows, but business has been very slow indeed for the TV companies’ new product placement departments. By August there had been a grand total of just six paid-for deals reported in the media1 – and there have been a handful since. The industry is sensitive about revealing exactly how few deals there have been, as it is hoping to talk up the prospects for a real take-off in 2013 (O’Reilly 2012).2 To date, though, most new placement deals have been either part of advertiser-funded TV shows or sponsorship packages, generating no additional revenue, or they have been agreed as free prop supply under the old, non-fee system. What was expected to be a new dawn for the UK media industry has turned out to be a huge disappointment for the industry so far, and prospects for improvement are based on optimism rather than evidence.