Observations: Unpaid product placement: the elephant in the room in UK TV’s new paid-for product placement market
Royal Holloway University of London
Queen Mary University of London
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.