Communications Authority to Review the Rules Governing Indirect Advertising and Sponsorship
The Communications Authority (“CA”) announced recently (4th of September 2017) its decision to review the relevant provisions in the codes of practice (the “Codes”) governing indirect advertising and product/service sponsorship (commonly known as “product placement”), with a view to relaxing, wherever possible and appropriate, the current regulatory regime, taking into account the public views collected through an opinion survey and focus group discussions.
In view of discussions in the community about product placement in domestic free television programme (“free TV”) services, and having regard to the changing landscape of the local TV market with the entry of new free TV licensees, the CA undertook in May 2016 research into the regulation of product placement in free TV services in other jurisdictions, and commissioned an opinion survey which was conducted between mid-February and end June 2017 to gauge public attitudes and views towards the issues concerned. The CA has now completed the research and the opinion survey and the results will facilitate its consideration of the way forward with respect to the regulatory regime governing product placement.
The findings of the research reveal that the key principles underlying the regulation of product placement in Hong Kong are generally in line with those in major overseas jurisdictions. In many places, advertisements are required to be recognisably separate from programmes and product placement is subject to specific requirements, including prohibition of both product placement in certain types of programmes and direct encouragement of purchase of products and services within programmes, and the need to preserve programme integrity and viewing pleasure. Whilst these requirements are similar to those in Hong Kong, the CA considers that there is room for relaxing the existing rules in Hong Kong.
As to the territory-wide opinion survey, the CA commissioned an independent survey firm to gauge public attitudes and views towards product placement, with more than 1 500 interviews conducted successfully. In addition, six focus group meetings, comprising four sessions for the general public, one for members of the Television and Radio Consultative Scheme (“TRCS”)1 and one for the creative industry and media professionals2, were held in July 2017 to collect more in-depth views on the subject. The executive summary of the results of the opinion survey and the summaries of the views expressed by the participants of the focus group discussions are available on the website of the CA. The major findings are summarised at Appendix.
The results of the opinion survey and the opinions expressed in the focus group discussions indicate that the viewing public in Hong Kong generally do not find product placement in free TV services objectionable, but that they consider it necessary to regulate the employment of product placement in free TV programmes. The major factors affecting viewers’ acceptance of product placement shown in free TV services include whether the presentation is natural and whether it is obtrusive to viewing pleasure. Both the viewing public and the industry tend to support a relaxation of the existing rules governing product placement to enhance the competitiveness of free TV services and facilitate the overall development of the industry.
Having considered the findings of the research and the survey, the CA takes the view that there is a case for it to embark on a review of the relevant provisions in the Codes governing indirect advertising and product/service sponsorship, with a view to relaxing, wherever possible and appropriate, the relevant standards and restrictions.
The CA will proceed to formulate proposals for amending the relevant provisions in the Codes and will engage the relevant licensees in the process of the review. A public consultation on proposed amendments to the Codes will be conducted in accordance with the CA’s consultation guidelines. In conducting the review, the CA will, as always, strive to strike a balance between protection of the interests of the viewing public in Hong Kong and provision of a more conducive business environment for licensees.
(1) The TRCS, administered by the Office of the Communications Authority, is aimed at gathering public opinions on broadcasting issues so as to assist the CA in formulating broadcasting regulations that can reflect community standards. Members of the public join the TRCS on a voluntary basis. The TRCS currently comprises 540 members of the public to form a mix that mirrors the population profile of Hong Kong by age, sex and occupation.
(2) Participants included representatives of free TV licensees, advertisers, TV production veterans and academics.
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