Britain's largest commercial television network ITV revealed Wednesday it is lobbying to overturn present European legislation banning product placement in TV programmes.

Speaking at the Royal Television Society Conference in London, ITV ceo Charles Allen told his audience: "We do think product placement has a part to play ... but it's something that will require regulatory change."

ITV is one of many US and European broadcasters to lie awake nights sweating over the spectre of personal video recorders and their ability to allow the skipping of adbreaks.

The theme was taken up by Harry Evans Sloan, executive chairman of mainland Europe's SBS Broadcasting: "Our industry is absolutely going to have to solve the so called problem of ad skipping ... otherwise we will face a bleak picture."

But Allen underlined that the PVR threat is not "an immediate one". Under present UK and European law paid product placement in illegal and it will, Allen believes, take two to three years to convince regulators of the need to sanction the practice – which is gaining ground fast in the USA.

Product placement, he added, was just "one of a range of options". Another might be the featuring of a brand logo at the bottom of the screen during programmes.

However, TV executives are well aware that either of these options would trigger howls of protest both from politicians and consumer groups.

  • Another speaker, Bob Iger, president of the mighty Walt Disney Company, agreed that ad-skipping is set to become one of the biggest challenges facing the TV industry. He warned, however, that product placement and sponsorship are "far from a silver bullet to solve the problem that PVRs are going to create".

    Taking questions after his presentation, Iger was asked if Disney is looking at the possible purchase of the BBC's commercial arm BBC Worldwide, thought to be up for sale [WAMN: 08-Sep-04].

    He replied: "I usually don't comment on potential acquisitions, but we are professional tyre kickers. We look at everything, especially if it's in our space or our competence."

    Clearly in jocose mood, Iger said: "We have also been asked why we didn't buy ITV as well ... we could just buy the UK and turn it into a theme park."

    But as one sour attendee remarked of Iger's latter option: "Many a true word's spoken in jest. But Disney has missed the boat: [US president] Woodrow Wilson did just that in 1918."

    Data sourced from MediaGuardian (UK); additional content by WARC staff