TV companies fear loss of revenues as food advertising debate reaches climax

By Rick Pendrous

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Advertising

TV companies fear loss of revenues as food advertising debate reaches climax
Restrictions on the broadcast advertising of food and drink to children, likely to emerge next year, will cost TV companies hundreds of millions of...

Restrictions on the broadcast advertising of food and drink to children, likely to emerge next year, will cost TV companies hundreds of millions of pounds and jeopardise their ability to show “good programmes” advocating healthier lifestyles, says the industry.

Speaking at a recent Westminster Diet & Health Forum, representatives from ITV, Five and Nickelodeon UK, accepted that tighter controls were inevitable, but warned it would reduce cash spent on positive programming. They said controls should be “proportionate and targeted”

Others warned that branded manufacturers may move their advertising to other less controllable outlets, such as internet gaming and 'viral marketing' campaigns.

TV companies are particularly worried about 'Option 3' in the current consultation being conducted by TV regulator Ofcom, which ends on June 30. It would impose a 'volume-based' restriction on the advertising of all food and drink products to children up to nine years of age. Option 1 is a time-based restriction of foods high in fats, sugar and salt (HFSS) aimed at kids up to nine years, while Option 2 is a time-based restriction on all food and drink for young children. Ofcom has asked stakeholders to come up with a fourth proposal.

“Provision of good programmes to children were linked to our ability to pay for them - £200M is at risk in Option 3,” said Martin Stott, deputy head of corporate affairs at Five. “TV must accept some restrictions, but parents, schools, government and manufacturers also have a role to play.”

Research had shown that TV advertising of food and drink had a “modest direct influence on children's health and diet”, said Sonia Livingstone, professor of social psychology at London School of Economics. But Richard Watts, co-ordinator for the healthy food campaign group Sustain, added: “By not banning advertising of junk food to children you are undermining all our other efforts to improve children's health.”

Despite calls from health campaigners for Ofcom to reintroduce the '9pm watershed', which had been dropped from the consultation options, this appeared unlikely. Ofcom senior standards manager Ian Blair said it would have been “disproportionate”. Under proposals for a 9pm watershed, no advertising of HFSS food and drink would have been allowed before this hour.

Proposals to control advertising to children are, however, already having an effect. Since last year, the volume of food and drink advertising on TV had dropped by 13%, said Ofcom. Cadbury Schweppes consumer impact director Trish Fields said: “Over 90% of the packaged [food and drink] industry had taken steps to self-regulate on advertising to children.”

Malcolm Earnshaw, director general of the UK advertisers' body ISBA, said: “What's on the table is the toughest set of codes in the world.”

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