Audiovisual commercial communication is a term that describes various forms of promotion of goods and services, as regulated by EU law under the Audiovisual Media Services Directive.
Broadly, the term covers:
- television advertising
- product placement
It reflects the directive’s scope – covering television, on-demand services and emerging advertising techniques.
Television advertising & teleshopping
Television advertising and teleshopping are subject to the basic rules for audiovisual commercial communications. They are also subject to a set of tighter controls than other types of audiovisual commercial communications.
Presentation and content
Advertising and teleshopping:
- must be easily recognisable, distinguished as such by auditory and visual means
- should, where possible, not be isolated
- are not permitted for prescription medication and tobacco products
- must comply with specific restrictions for alcoholic drinks
Quantity and frequency
Duration – advertising and teleshopping spots may not take up more than 20% of any given hour of broadcasting time.
- broadcasters' announcements about their own programmes or ancillary products derived from them;
- public service messages and charity appeals broadcast free of charge;
- teleshopping windows must last at least 15 minutes and be clearly identifiable.
Insertion - advertising and teleshopping:
- should preferably be inserted between programmes – but where inserted during programmes, should not harm the integrity of the programme or rights holders' interests;
- may be inserted during children’s programmes, films and news programmes only once in each scheduled period of at least 30 minutes.
Sponsorship means any contribution made by undertakings or natural persons not engaged in the provision or production of audiovisual works, to the financing of audiovisual media services or programmes with a view to promoting their name, trademark, image, activities or products.
The decisive criterion distinguishing sponsorship from product placement is the fact that in product placement the reference to the product is built into the action of a programme. In contrast, sponsor references may be shown during programmes but are not part of a plot.
Distinction between sponsorship and advertising spot should be drawn using the purpose of these forms of audiovisual commercial communications. The purpose of sponsorship is to promote the sponsor's name, trademark, image, activities or products by contributing to the financing of programmes. The sponsored programmes, unlike advertising, may not make special promotional references.
Sponsors shall influence neither the content nor the scheduling of the programme. They shall not encourage the purchase of a product or service.
Sponsors must be clearly identified as such in an appropriate way for programmes at the beginning, during and/or the end of the programmes.
Pharmaceutical companies may sponsor broadcasts but will still not be able to promote specific medicines or medical treatments. Sponsorship of programmes by undertakings whose main activity is manufacture or sales of tobacco products is prohibited.
News and current affairs programmes may not be sponsored.
Member States may choose to prohibit the showing of a sponsorship logo during children's programmes, documentaries and religious programmes.
Product placement, in contrast to sponsorship messages, is built into the action of a programme whereas sponsor references may be shown during the programme but are not part of the plot.
Requirements for derogation
- Product placement against payment is only allowed in certain kinds of programmes, such as cinematographic works, films and series made for audiovisual media service, sports, and light entertainment programmes. It is prohibited in children's programmes.
- Product placement provided free of charge, such as production props or prizes, is allowed in all programmes including children's programmes.
- Member States are able to adopt stricter rules and choose to opt-out of such provisions allowing product placement totally or partially.
- Programmes featuring product placement should comply with a set of criteria, including editorial independence of the media service provider, no undue prominence given to the product or service referred to, and more.
- Product placement may not be used in order to promote supply of the products or services.
- Viewers must be clearly informed about the existence of product placement. The product placement should be appropriately identified at the start and at the end of the programme and when the programme resumes after an advertising break. Member States may decide not to apply this requirement to programmes that have neither been produced nor commissioned by the media service provider itself.
- Product placement of tobacco products and medicinal products for prescription is prohibited under any circumstances.
- If product placement is surreptitious it should also be prohibited.
- The rules on product placement should only apply to programmes produced after 19 December 2009.
Self- and co-regulation
The AVMSD imposes an obligation on Member States to encourage self- and co-regulation. Media service providers should develop codes of conduct regarding audiovisual commercial communications accompanying or included in children's programmes of foods high in fat, salt and sugar (HFSS).
The AVMSD imposes an obligation on the Member States to encourage co- and self-regulation at national level in the fields coordinated in the Directive to the extent permitted by their legal systems. This includes fields such as advertising, protection of minors and accessibility. The systems adopted at national level should be broadly accepted by the main stakeholders in the Member State concerned and provide for effective enforcement.
The provision gives Member States a wide margin of discretion as to the means of encouragement. Depending on whether the transposition is done by a Member State with long tradition of self-regulation or by a Member State where self-regulation is hardly or only recently being used, the transposition measures differ significantly.
The Commission monitors the implementation of this provision through regular monitoring activities.
The AVMSD imposes an obligation on Member States and the Commission to encourage media service providers to develop codes of conduct regarding audiovisual commercial communications accompanying or included in children's programmes of foods High in Fat, Salt and Sugar (HFSS).
The Commission and Member States are therefore obliged to address both traditional and on-demand media service providers and encourage them to develop codes of conduct in the respective area.
Their activities or lack of activities will be subject to monitoring and reporting obligation.
The term "codes of conduct" refers to voluntary rules set by the audiovisual media service providers themselves or in cooperation with other sectors (e.g. food, advertising industry).
The codes should cover audiovisual commercial communications — traditional television advertising, sponsorship, teleshopping and product placement — of food and beverages containing nutrients and substances with a nutritional or physiological effect, in particular those such as high in fat, tarns-fatty acids, salt/sodium and sugars (HFSS foods).
The definition of the term HFSS foods can be found in the Regulation 1924/2006 on heath claims. The specific nutrient profiles established by the Commission help to identify the products that comply with that definition.
All audiovisual commercial communications, including TV and on-demand viewing, must:
- be readily recognisable;
- not use subliminal techniques;
- not use surreptitious techniques;
- respect human dignity;
- not include or promote discrimination;
- not encourage behaviour harmful to health (see codes of conduct on fatty food);
- safety or the environment;
- not promote tobacco or prescription medication.
Protection of minors
Audiovisual commercial communications must not:
- cause physical or moral harm to minors;
- directly exploit minors’ inexperience or credulity;
- encourage minors to pressurise parents to make a purchase.
Audiovisual commercial communications for alcohol must not be aimed at minors or encourage excessive alcohol consumption.