U.K. b'casters prod on product placement

ITV, Virgin Media, Discovery back voluntary code

LONDON -- ITV, Virgin Media and Discovery announced a voluntary product placement code Monday in a bid to persuade government to allow the introduction of the program-financing source -- estimated to be worth as much as 30 million pounds ($44.7 million) a year -- into the U.K.

But the proposal is likely to face opposition from Culture Secretary Andy Burnham, the cabinet minister with ultimate responsibility for broadcasting regulation, who has used several successive appearances in front of broadcasting execs to warn of his opposition to product placement.

The U.K. government is consulting on the implementation of a new audiovisual code on product placement, but Burnham warned the industry this summer that there is a risk that product placement will "contaminate programming."

The code, which was unveiled Monday and is expected to attract the support of other broadcasters here, has been put together by producers' trade body PACT and represents an attempt to lobby for what producers and broadcasters describe as "a legitimate new revenue stream."

It includes an onscreen logo that will alert viewers to the presence of product placement in the content they are watching, and promises "transparency," "no undue prominence" and "editorial independence."

ITV managing director of advertising and brand Rupert Howell insisted that product placement is "an innovative and important new revenue stream for ad-funded, commercial broadcasters" stressing that it will provide a necessary boost to investment in original U.K. content "at a time when advertising revenues are declining."
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