Your Brand on TV, for a Fee, in Britain

PARIS — As Phil Vickery, a British television chef, prepared cottage pie last week, viewers got a taste of the future of television in Britain — a future that arrived long ago in the United States and many other countries.

It was not easy to spot, but there on a shelf behind Mr. Vickery was a coffee maker, the kind that spits out espresso or cappuccino from individual portions of grounds. In this case, the machine was not actually doing anything other than earning a reported £100,000, or about $163,000, for ITV, the British network that aired “This Morning,” the show on which Mr. Vickery demonstrated his recipe. But it was still a groundbreaking moment: the first paid product placement on British television.

This form of marketing, in which brand owners pay television producers to place their products on the set or, sometimes, to insert them into the script of a program, is widespread in the United States, where judges on television talent contests, for example, slurp from oversize cups with the logos of soft drinks prominently displayed.

Until recently, however, product placement was banned in Britain, where the advertising-free, publicly financed British Broadcasting Corp. is held out as a standard for editorial purity in television. While the BBC shares the television dial with ad-financed broadcasters like ITV, these channels also labor under regulations limiting the spread of commercialism.

“Television is taken with a fair degree of seriousness in Britain,” said Toby Syfret, who follows the TV business at Enders Analysis in London. “Anything that could affect editorial integrity is considered very carefully.”

Commercial television companies like ITV lobbied long and hard to overturn the ban, arguing that it was outdated at a time when viewers can use digital video recorders to fast-forward through traditional ad breaks.

New European Union rules that went into effect in 2007 for the first time specifically authorized product placement, which had already been practiced in E.U. countries, like Spain, Italy and Austria, under liberal interpretations of previous laws. As the global economic and financial crisis took its toll on traditional advertising, most other E.U. members quickly legalized product placement. Britain was more reluctant but finally followed suit, permitting product placement as of last week.

“The view from broadcasters was not necessarily that it was going to provide an immediate injection of cash,” said Ross Biggam, director general of the Association of Commercial Television in Europe, a lobbying group based in Brussels. “It was more about having the flexibility to respond to changes in the marketplace.”

Indeed, estimates of spending on product placement in Britain, and across Europe, are modest compared with figures from the United States. PQ Media, a research firm, said the United States accounted for $3.6 billion of a global total of $6.3 billion in spending on product placement in television, films and other media in 2009.

On British television, the firm forecasts that such outlays will reach little more than $50 million by 2014. ITV said the product placement on “This Morning” was the only one scheduled for last week.

One reason for the low expectations is the strictness of regulations governing the practice in Britain. Some big advertisers, including alcohol and junk-food brands, are not permitted to engage in the practice. News shows, children’s programming and some other kinds of broadcasts are not allowed to accept any product placements. The BBC, which operates the most-watched channel in Britain, remains off limits, too.

“Some of the brands are going, ‘Yeah, so?’ because the BBC is where they’d really like to be,” said Leo Kivijarv, vice president for research at PQ Media.

To be sure, even BBC shows contain some product placements — the unpaid kind that occur when program producers include branded items on sets to make shows more realistic. Agencies specialize in inserting products into shows in this way. Even if no money changes hands between the marketer and the producer, popular props in British dramas, like Apple laptops or iPhones, are not necessarily there by accident.

Some product placements have also found their way into British living rooms via a back door, as British channels import programming from the United States and other countries.

Even under the new rules, British producers are not allowed to give “undue prominence” to products that help pay the rent, nor are they allowed to weave them into plot lines in an obvious way. In other words, it seems unlikely that Mr. Vickery, during future cooking segments of “This Morning,” will suddenly decide he is a barista and fire up the Nescafé Dolce Gusto coffee maker that Nestlé paid to place on the set.

“The editorial integrity of our programming remains ITV’s priority, and any introduction of product placement will strictly adhere to Ofcom rules,” the broadcaster said, referring to the British media regulator.

One of those rules is that product placements must be disclosed to viewers, something that is not required in the United States. In Britain, channels must display a small “P” in the corner of the screen at the start and end of shows containing product placements, as well as after the advertising breaks.

Some British media monitoring groups say this is not enough. The “P” is easy to overlook and does not make it clear which products are there because of commercial arrangements, said Vivienne Pattison, director of Mediawatch-UK, an organization that campaigned against the legalization of product placement.

“If you watch an ‘18’ film, you know the kinds of things you’re going to see,” she said, referring to the British designation for adults-only movies. “It should be the same if they are trying to sell to you. What we saw on ‘This Morning’ probably isn’t going to hurt anyone, but we’re concerned about where it could go.”

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