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Television Broadcasts (TVB)

More product placements could be coming to Hong Kong TV shows as rule relaxation mulled

Communications Authority launches one-month consultation on whether restrictions on indirect advertising should be loosened

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 28 March, 2018, 10:34pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 28 March, 2018, 10:35pm

Hong Kong’s Communications Authority is inviting public opinion on whether rules for indirect advertising in television programmes should be relaxed.

Proposed revisions include allowing product placements in current affairs shows so long as viewers are “clearly informed” beforehand.

The debate is believed to be a response to growing pressure from a television industry struggling to remain profitable amid stiff competition from new media.

TVB, Hong Kong’s largest broadcaster, posted a profit of HK$244 million last year, a 51 per cent drop on 2016 and a far cry from the HK$1.74 billion it earned in 2013.

The company has been one of the most vocal critics of the current rules and is in the midst of legal challenges against two violations it committed in 2015 and 2016 which incurred fines of HK$350,000.

Having already gathered views from the industry, the authority announced on Wednesday that it was launching a one-month consultation to hear the public’s concerns.

Indirect advertising – the mingling or embedding of adverts into programme content, inadvertently or otherwise, with or without a fee – would under the proposals be permitted except in news, current affairs, children’s, educational or religious shows.

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However, paid product placements would be allowed in current affairs shows if “natural and unobtrusive” and conforming to the programme’s context.

Authority chairwoman Winnie Tam Wan-chi gave an example.

“If it was an extravagant dinner banquet and you took out something which did not match the occasion, such as cleaning products, then the ad would be deemed obtrusive,” she said.

Grace Leung, lecturer at the Chinese University of Hong Kong’s School of Journalism and Communication, said product placements existed in many forms, and viewers did not necessarily oppose them.

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“Product placements are powerful as they are a form of unconscious emotional appeal to viewers … But if you push it too far, people will feel they are being brainwashed,” she said.

Leung cited the example of a placement during a live TVB awards presentation ceremony in December 2015, during which performers dressed in evening gowns were served fried chicken in containers showing the logo of a fast-food chain.

The authority received 15 public complaints about the placement before fining TVB HK$150,000 for breaching TV programme and advertising codes.

The station is appealing against that decision, saying the ruling was unconstitutional because it restricted freedom of expression.

TVB and Fantastic TV, the free-to-air arm of Cable TV, on Wednesday both welcomed the authority’s decision to consider relaxing the current rules.