Lorraine Heggessey, controller of the BBC's flagship TV channel BBC1 and one of the broadcaster's more streetwise executives, on Thursday downplayed the backdoor sponsorship by US soft drinks giant Coca-Cola of its long-running youth show, Top of the Pops [WAMN: 03-Dec-03].

The deal is officially between Coke and music charts compiler the Official UK Charts Company, whose ratings the BBC uses both for TOTP and its youth/pop station Radio One. But the broadcaster piously insists the Coke sponsorship is beyond its control -- and in any event, says Heggessey, the brand's name will only appear on the TOTP end credits, which "no one reads anyway."

Which, if true, casts an unflattering light on the marketing judgement of Coke's UK sponsorship executives. Media insiders, however, believe a super-shrewd operator like Coke would only have sponsored the chart-peddler in the certain knowledge that its brand would be mentioned orally in addition to the 'never read by no-one' end credits.

And it is well known that public service broadcasting executives live in an ivory tower and would be blissfully unaware of commercial unpleasantnesses such as indirect sponsorship.

Meantime, there is a rising tide of opposition to the deal, with MP Debra Shipley (Labour, Stourbridge) urging culture, media and sport secretary Tessa Jowell to block the arrangement. A deal "jeopardizing [the BBC's] unique quality and therefore its right to a TV licence," charges Shipley.

But Jowell's view is that brand sponsorship permitted by a publicly funded broadcaster in defiance of its Royal Charter is not a governmental issue but a matter for the BBC's board of governors and new supra-regulator Ofcom.

Data sourced from: mad.co.uk; additional content by WARC staff